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October 15, 2007 | by  | in Opinion |
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Welfare

Well, here we are – the end of term and my final piece of writing for Salient for the year (Thank God). I’ll confess I’m not someone who enjoys sitting down and writing a column every week, and I have tried to fob it off, but not with the best success. So it’s disorientation time for Salient and I’m going to tell you about a year of Welfare! To be honest, it’ll be more like what I have discovered in my half year term.

Let’s start with living costs for students. This year VUWSA continued its campaign for a universal student allowance, so that students will no longer have to live off borrowings – in fact, that’s what the Box City Protest was all about. For many students, the $150 that they borrow is simply not enough, with the average cost of rent in Wellington requiring every cent of that! I mean, the figure hasn’t been adjusted since 1992 – someone needs to cut these students a break. So, in this coming election year, it is our intention to put some pressure on the National and Labour parties through the New Zealand University Students Association (NZUSA) which combines the collective might of every student association around the country.

The VUWSA food bank has also seen a lot of use in the recent weeks, with students finding that their money is just starting to run out. Some students have incredibly high course related costs, which means they are struggling to get by. As part of my role I sit on the hardship committee, which decides on special grants to help students in times of hardship. Since I’ve been involved with the committee, I have been amazed at the number of students coming in from the Architecture campus who have end of term projects which can cost $750 or over. When you’re faced with this sort of expenditure, I’m not surprised you’re struggling to get by – especially if your only source of income is the student living cost.

Consequently, the main issue facing students right now, in terms of Welfare, is income and rising debt. For this reason, the counselling service is overrun and many students are withdrawing from courses to simply try and climb their way out of a hole. It’s an easy thing to accumulate debt but, when you reach your limit, the weight of it can crush you and hinder your success. I myself have spent much time playing catch up and finely balancing two roles here at VUWSA with some part time bar work, with study on top of that.

For many students, equity is still their biggest issue. For these reasons we have wonderful representatives for Queer rights, Womens rights and for international students. They are all part of the Welfare team. Now that I’ve mentioned the Welfare team, I’d like to mention one simple thing I have done: I started organising regular meetings with all of these teams to help coordinate our work and create a pool of knowledge for everyone to utilise.

Disabled students have also been a focus of mine, with accessibility being a real problem for some of them. One example would be the issue of the Law library, which has an elevator – but the door isn’t big enough to fit a wheelchair! I’m pleased to say I’ve had a meeting with Disability Support Services, however, and they are working on a number of issues around campus with the support of Can-Do. So I guess you can say next year’s focus for the Welfare Vice President Melissa Barnard will be establishing good communication amongst our Welfare team and maintaining and utilising relationships with people from Student Services.

In all honesty, I could sit here and write an incredibly long article and never address the issues that students are confronted with – but I can say we’re moving in the right direction to start effectively tackling these issues.

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