A Green Party inquiry into student wellbeing in New Zealand has confirmed what we already know: students are struggling to survive. 

The inquiry found on average, those living in a shared flat spend 56% of their weekly income on rent. 

Housing affordability measurements declare no one should be spending more than 30% of their gross income (before tax, Kiwisaver, student loan deductions) on housing, Green Party spokesperson for tertiary education Chlöe Swarbrick says.

“We need affordable, healthy homes for everyone, and students overwhelmingly understand the need for rent controls and a warrant of fitness for rental homes - because they live in a world without those fundamentals.”

The People’s Inquiry into Student Wellbeing which surveyed more than 4500 students was released today by the Green Party, NZUSA, Te Mana Ākonga, Tauira Pasifika and the National Disabled Students’ Association. 

The inquiry revealed one in six students said their flat didn't meet their needs but they couldn't move because rents were too high.

Ninety-one percent of the students surveyed supported rent controls and 82% supported a rental warrant of fitness.

A rental warrant of fitness is a checklist of housing criteria covering ventilation, heating, safety and hygiene that are considered to be minimum requirements for a healthy home. 

It also found two-thirds of students regularly do not have enough money to buy food, clothing, pay bills, get health care or other basics. 

Disabled, Māori and Pasifika students were most likely to be in this position. 

A student who filled out the survey wrote: “I’m currently filling this survey out while drinking lots of water because I don’t actually have enough food for a meal tonight. I think that’s a summary of my personal experience as a university student,” 

Swarbrick says “we opened this inquiry when it was clear neither the Government nor the supposed opposition were interested in the real data or experiences of students on the ground”.

The inquiry was first launched in April and the results come as students across Aotearoa have been struggling to find jobs, pay for their bills and a recent study found that they are more than twice as likely as the general population to live in damp and mouldy homes

One person previously told Re: that being a student was a "poverty trap"

“We said it would give us irrefutable evidence of the systemic barriers and challenges facing the 400,000 students in this country. It has. This must force change.”

The cost of transport was also another big focus. 

Two-thirds of the students said they haven't been able to pay for transport or the costs of a vehicle. 

Ninety-one percent said they would use public transport "more" if it was free.

This comes after the Government announced on Sunday that half-price transport will be extended again until January 2023. 

The 25-cent cut in petrol excise duty will also be extended for the same amount of time. 

But Swarbrick says this isn’t enough. 

“It’s time for a Universal Student Allowance, fees-free, free public transport, rent controls, and a rental WOF. The only thing standing in our way is mainstream political willpower - and there’s an election next year,” she says.

In order to make studying more affordable the inquiry recommends: 

  1. Making student allowances accessible to all (this means scrapping parent and partner income testing, exclusion of graduate students and age limits).
  2. Lifting student allowance payments to match the cost of living and meeting the needs of different equity groups.
  3. Stop basing the amount of allowance students are entitled to based on how much they earn in their part-time employment.
  4. Working with tertiary education and student accommodation providers to embed the Pastoral Care of Tertiary and International Students Code of Practice 2021.
  5. Improving the accessibility and capacity of student mental health services.
  6. Making public transport free for tertiary students.
  7. Progressing the Rental Warrant of Fitness and Rent Control proposals.

“Education is a right, not a privilege. We have an obligation to ensure that all students are able to live while studying, and this inquiry has proved that students are struggling to make ends meet,” Sawbrick says.

Top Image: A flat in Wellington. (File photo) Photo: Michael Madden-Smith/Re: 

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