This is the copy of a piece which has been sent to Varsity for publication.
As the comment piece the other day was from two students, brought here by Cambridge University, as someone born and raised in Cambridge, the son of a graduate of Queens, but now as a carer and trade unionist and a graduate of nowhere, I would like to tell the University and the colleges what we as a city now need.
We are the most unequal city because of the University of Cambridge. It has created a bubble of inflated living costs and a huge service and hospitality economy to service the wealth of university and it’s offshoots. Now all that is in tatters, those who migrated here from Greece and Spain during the crash of 2008 in hope of a better future who service our bars and restaurants, many of them now realise a future in Cambridge is grim. When the university decided to move the whole of the next academic year online it killed the livelihoods of thousands of workers and businesses. But it can be remedied. The furlough scheme has shown what as a socialist I have always known, that government intervention can work. The combined assets of the university and it’s colleges is almost £21bn. If only the fellows of Trinity were to order it, those jobs and businesses can be saved, I am certain the collective effort of the university and all 31 colleges. What I am talking about is a no-strings attached grant to all those now going through hardship. 100% wages for those not able to work and the complete suspension of rents and grants to businesses to keep them viable until we fully unlock. From the statement of the University I would expect that to run until the 21/22 academic year.
Cambridge is not going to recover or close the gaps of COVID19 with that help alone. The expected mortality rate between Newnham and King’s Hedges is 10 years! This is not just about the haves and the haves not in our city – it is about the cleaners of the Old Schools or college bursars who have to commute into our great city simply because of the lack of affordable and social housing. St Ives, Ely, Haverhill, Huntingdon. Many born here find once they grow up they simply cannot afford to live. Nurses at our city’s great hospital can commute from as far as Bedford and King’s Lynn. How is this in any way fair, while we invite 20,000 students to live in the centre of our city who have often have no relationship to it but high academic achievement? So we are asking for a long term strategy, governed by those who we elect on our City Council. That is, we desperately need council housing. There are over 3000 on the council’s housing register waiting. We know housing is not a question of need but means. The recent development in Trumpington shows that we cannot leave the market to provide housing. We don’t need any luxury apartments and million pound houses so outsiders can have a weekend bolthole! Unfortunately Eddington too University though lovely, has proven that you cannot be trusted to adequately house your staff at an affordable price, rent rises and insecure tenancy’s should not be a thing we need to live with. Housing is a human right.
At the North East Fringe development site we have a new opportunity. We now know that Cambridge City and South Cambs think we can build sustainably 8,000 houses. But the people of Cambridge will always see it as town-vs-gown unless you can do this. Help our councils through no strings attached grants achieve 50% council housing. 4,000 new council homes. Mainly for your workers and the people who service our students when they come back next Autumn. As a charitable institution this is simply doing the right thing by the city in which you reside.
Going forward where isolation and social distancing is ended please be more respectful to the city and its civic institutions. The city council does great work in trying to remedy the symptoms of inequality. Respect it and the democratic decisions it makes, don’t try and use your power to undermine or overrule it! All workers now deserve a recognition of the real living wage and the right to collectively bargain through trade unions such as mine, Unite. You have often disrespected businesses pleading against rent rises. This in turn has led to them shutting and much suffering. This is not necessary, you have much wealth and don’t have to inflict such pain.
This is by no way everything, but it is some of the way you can help the city that without which you would not exist. It is a good start and a new way of working in which the public and your students will demand that we don’t go back to the bad old ways!
And one more thing, recognise UCU you might just need them when COVID is gone! No going back.
James Youd, Secretary Unite the Union LE00003 Cambridge Community, Cambridge born and bred, carer for my partner, Unite LE Political Committee (personal capacity).