Student rates

Could student digs alleviate our cost and housing crises?

Irish households are facing a bleak winter amid the steepest rises in the cost of living for nearly four decades.

People here pay more than the EU average for food, drink, energy, transport, communications and restaurants, European consumer body Eurostat has found.

The rising cost of living is hurting people’s health, says the British medical journalwith more than half (55%) of people saying their health has been negatively affected.

The links between income and poor health are well established. The money people have is tied to the choices they make about their health — more and better food; the ability to keep their home warm; being able to afford public transport to see a doctor.

The rising cost of living also acutely affects psychological well-being.

Evidence has long shown that poverty and deprivation cause stress and what psychologists call “negative affective states”.

Poverty-related stress can limit your attention span and promote habitual behaviors over goal-oriented ones.

In other words, you are more likely to be myopic and risk averse in your decision-making, which makes it harder to escape the poverty trap.

The corollary of feeling trapped or helpless in the long run will have a very detrimental effect on your mental health.

Research shows it nearly triples the chances of being diagnosed with anxiety or depression.

Poverty is humiliating. It can keep people from feeling important and denying feelings of being valued.

The distress experienced by those affected by poverty stems from the inequality that underpins a faulty system — the system, not the person, is faulty.

The cost of living crisis is exacerbated by the housing crisis which, in turn, exacerbates the acute student housing crisis that is currently unfolding.

Property website Daft.ie revealed there were just 716 properties available for rent statewide, down from 2,500 a year ago.

The same report found that rents rose at their fastest rate on record between April and June, with a national average of €1,618 per month, more than double the average of €765 in 2011.

Higher Education Minister Simon Harris has called on landlords to consider letting rooms to students before the start of the new academic year. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

The government’s Housing for All strategy aims to provide 90,000 social housing units by 2030 as well as thousands of rental-build apartments in the private sector.

Observers say policies are not enough to meet current needs, let alone projected demand. To tackle the acute shortage of student accommodation as the new term draws ever closer, Further and Further Education Minister Simon Harris has called on landlords to consider renting rooms to students before start of the new academic year.

The Students’ Union of Ireland has corroborated the student accommodation crisis, with many students starting university in September struggling to find accommodation.

The cost of living crisis is adding pressure on families to pay skyrocketing rents for almost non-existent housing.

Mr Harris described the situation as ‘very difficult’, admitting there is a ‘real housing supply problem’.

To boost capacity, the government is promoting the Room Rental Relief Scheme, which it described as “an immediate practical measure” that colleges and local communities can help today.

Owners can earn up to €14,000 a year without paying tax or impacting social benefits.

When it was last continued to its full extent in 2018, approximately 3,000 students were taken into the program.

The Trinity University website suggests that living with a host family is an economical and flexible option.

The family can offer accommodation for five or seven days or this year can take bookings for a shorter week.

Students typically pay 25-30 weeks during the academic year and the average rent is €165-220 per week and utility bills are included in the cost.

'Digs' were commonplace decades before student accommodation was readily available, or families had the financial means to afford the costs of everything but a basic room and an evening meal for students. family members at university.  Photo: Alamy/PA
‘Digs’ were commonplace decades before student accommodation was readily available, or families had the financial means to afford the costs of everything but a basic room and an evening meal for students. family members at university. Photo: Alamy/PA

Homestays can provide optional extras such as breakfast and evening meals.

Could renting a spare room to students make a real difference in alleviating the immediate problem of students looking for accommodation, while addressing the acute cost of living crisis that is likely to unfold? make it worse as winter approaches?

‘Digs’ were commonplace decades before student accommodation was readily available, or families had the financial means to afford the costs of everything but a basic room and an evening meal for students. family members at university.

In his book, The health gapProfessor Michael Marmot says he “feels unrealistically optimistic all the time”.

“Despite all the doomsayers – the people who argue that it’s all been messed up – I believe the evidence shows things can get better. I’ve developed selective deafness,” he said.

“I don’t hear cynicism. If people say no one will ever do things differently, it won’t happen, people don’t change and so on, it bounces back. I don’t hear it anymore. Realistic, yes, but not cynical.”

We could do with a dose of that optimism and game-changing determination to challenge the status quo as we face a long and catastrophic winter.

  • Dr Catherine Conlon is a public health physician in Cork and former director of human health and nutrition at Safefood