A recent advice surgery I held at St Hilda’s specifically for students brought forward some important and interesting issues – showing how students talking with their MP can make a difference. Some of the issues raised with me included the campaign for the Living Wage to the menace of smoking at hospital entrances.
Student participants of the OUSU’s Living Wage Campaign came to see me to see me to discuss the campaign and let me know their view that it should be extended across all university departments and colleges, including all subcontracted staff (e.g. cleaning staff) who are often paid a lower rate. I fully support the campaign and have raised this with the University’s Vice-Chancellor.
I also met with a student who raised concerns that smokers are lining up just outside the entrance to hospital, meaning that visitors and vulnerable patients entering the building are in a thoroughfare of passive smoking.
He made an interesting suggestion, based on his experience of hospital services in Canada, that smoking should be legally banned within a fifteen metre radius of the hospital to prevent this occurring, which I have since taken up with the Secretary of State for Health.
Another important issue I have become involved with is the campaign over restrictions to student visas, after a number of concerned students contacted me to express concerns about the difficulty of acquiring visas for study. I contributed to a debate in the House of Commons on this, and regularly take up the cases of individual constituents who contact me about having visa difficulties.
I have also recently met with a campaigner for fairer gambling who raised concerns with me about the increased incidence and risk of gambling amongst the student population. I very much welcome student views on this, and ideas on the best way of tackling the problem.
Student voices can make a difference, as I hope the above examples show. It sadly remains the case that 18 to 24 year olds are less likely to vote than any other age demographic, and this is a statistic including a large number of students, which is a worrying trend.
A number of the policies pursued by the coalition government — the unprecedented rise in tuition fees, and scrapping of the Education Maintenance Allowance, policies which have caused so much damage toa generation of young people — show what can happen when young people’s needs are marginalised in the democratic process, and they accordingly don’t exercise their vote whether through disillusionment, or for a variety of other complex reasons.
I have always valued the contribution of our students to the local quality of life and vigour of political campaigning. As the City and European Elections come into view – and with individual electoral registration on the horizon too – it is important to underline that students can not only talk with me, but be heard through local campaigning and by exercising that most fundamental of democratic rights – their vote.