It was Tuesday, March 24th I made the call. I chucked my shit (and my cat) in a car and drove 520kms to Hamilton to spend the lockdown with family. While the last few weeks have been a wholesome compilation of baking and binging Netflix, it's still bittersweet. The home I abandoned was filled with black mould, no heating, a whole lotta draughts and three poor as fuck students. I couldn't stay there. Not only because 93.6% of my only income went towards keeping a roof over my head, but because we all dreaded what a few months inside with our unspoken (and unpaying) flatmate, the mould, would do to our health.
Each week my rent, bills and car insurance sum up to a grand total of $240. When you're getting $235 from Studylink and still want to afford food - or god forbid, a coffee - things don't quite add up. You do the math.
When the oh-so generous Education Minister, Chris Hipkins, announced a big hearty 1K of debt to be gifted to students this April, the reactions were mixed. While all of us are grateful for instant bucks, especially now, most of us dreaded yet another excuse to hike up our debt. On top of that, the extra course costs announced are "not supposed to be used for living costs", but then again, it's not supposed to be used for a gram of gear and a few boxes, but that doesn't stop us does it?
I'd be preaching to the choir if I spent this time rambling about house prices or greedy landlords, this is Wellington. You've all heard the same complaints a million times over from flatties, mates, and students alike. But of all the times to ask - no, demand - for change, it's now or never.
Student debt in New Zealand hit $16 billion this year. $16 billion. Hell, mine has passed $35k, and my stomach is going to be churning for the next 20 years while I pay it off. With house ownership and a financially stable future off the table, we're a bit fucked, but it doesn't have to be like that for the next generation of students, and the next. We just have to make it happen.
The government has demonstrated that change can happen in a fraction of the time it otherwise would when there is enough call for it; so we need to make that call. We need to band together, to get politically involved and demand a Universal Student Allowance. Demand living costs that actually cover the costs of living. Demand recognition that full-time study is a full-time job. The problem is we just aren't asking loud enough, or in the right places.
While we students love to complain about our situation, we don't do much but the odd Facebook comment or protest. Getting involved with politics is the only way we can make these changes happen. From signing the Young Green's Youth Income Plan (proposing a Universal Student Allowance), to getting involved with NZUSA (New Zealand Union of Students' Associations). There is so much you can do. Phone your representatives, contact the media, email Chris Hipkins, or better yet, send a real-life letter. Get your voice and your struggles out there.
They won't help us if we don't make them, so flood their inboxes, raise awareness, sign that petition and force the government to recognise that we, students, need more support than we get. And besides, right now we’ve got nothing better to do…
Speak up now, or forever hold your peace.