The National Union of Students (NUS) is the representative union for students in the UK – it is massive, well-funded, and makes a big deal out of claiming to be accessible. This is the experience of one of the NCAFC’s candidates, who, like many students, has to work for a living. To find out more about Rosie’s campaign, see here: https://www.facebook.com/rosieforwelfare
I think it’s really important to be accountable so I wanted to write a short statement as to why I didn’t attend the NUS FTO candidate podcast/debate session today in London. The MancUnion paper (University of Manchesters’ student paper) tweeted this morning, “Farce klaxon! Just one of three candidates for welfare position has bothered to turn up – #hustings? #nusnc13” which I found quite hurtful (they apologised immediately that I explained my reasons for not attending, by the way) – I hope noone ever thinks that I ‘can’t be bothered’, but I DO think this event, like many in NUS, are very inaccessible for all but those in full time Higher Education.
We’ve known about this event for a while, it was on the registration documents for my nominations. However, although I do sometimes have problems getting annual leave without advance notice, the reasons I didn’t attend today were the following:
- -Like the majority of students at my college, I study part time. In fact only 23% of Sheffield College students are full time 16-19. I work full time in two jobs Monday-Friday, and study NCFE Counselling Level 2 (what used to be a BTEC) on Tuesday evenings 6-9pm. Unfortunately this means that in order to attend a midweek event like this I would have to take a day’s annual leave from my job, and in order to travel there I would have to leave very early, or miss my (quite expensive) college course the night before.
- I don’t mind taking some annual leave for NUS stuff, I kind of see it as an inevitable part of the candidacy process, but I only get a limited amount (about five weeks a year like a lot of people) and my employer encourages us to spread it over the year so it doesn’t have such an impact on our clients (I work as a domestic abuse advocacy worker on Wednesdays), so taking it all in the Spring term is a bit of a problem.
- I had already made the difficult decision that I couldn’t afford – time-wise – to take time off for both Women’s Conference AND Disabled Students Conference despite the opportunity to attend both as a delegate. I couldn’t therefore justify an additional day for the hustings as well. My priority will always be getting involved in the rank and file and/or democratic processes of the student movement over and above the more bureaucratic side of things. I think there are two sides to accountability in this election and would always choose to attend a liberation conference over a press conference if I had to.
- I also suffer from stress-related anxiety and depression, which I knew would be aggravated if I was travelling all the way to London and back in one day and working both days either side. Having the event on a Wednesday made this particularly difficult as a weekend day either side would really have taken the pressure off.
- I emailed the Democracy team at NUS after they announced the timings of the debates (VP Welfare was 9:50am which would have meant a 6:30am train) and asked if I could phone or Skype in for at least the podcasts, if not the debate as well. I was told no, with no reasoning. I replied again yesterday asking if I could send a proxy in my place, and asking again if I could phone/Skype. I was told that I couldn’t send a proxy, and that “we simply do not have time/ capacity for you to take part from elsewhere or through Skype” but also that “we are committed to making them as accessible as possible”, though holding it midweek without any concession didn’t seem much of a commitment to be honest. I had made it clear by this point that the arrangements were proving a barrier to me in terms of mental health and access.
I’m feeling very frustrated and disappointed about the lack of flexibility from NUS about this. I don’t feel that this is something that could not easily have been resolved through remote contact (I even suggested I could go into the Sheffield Uni or Hallam Uni radio studios to call in) in order to accommodate a part-time student/working student.I hope people understand that my non-attendance was not due to lack of commitment, and if people would like to ask me the same questions that were put to Colum – or in fact anything else, I am happy to answer them here, by email at [email protected], or give me a call on 07810632653
Thanks for reading
Edit: I’ve decided to add in now that an additional reason this week has been particularly difficult for me is that I found out on Monday that I could well be losing my job soon as our voluntary sector funding grant from Children In Need (which funds the entire project including my wages, which provides an attachment theory-based support based on narrative therapy for children and parents who’ve survived domestic abuse) has not been renewed. This has obviously meant an even more difficult week and I wouldn’t have mentioned it except that it’s happening so much across the country at the moment with the new council budgets and the welfare reform coming up, it will affect more and more workers. I think as I’m standing for welfare it is important for me to take a principled position that workers should not be in a position as to always be relying on precarious funding pots for their wages – be that charity funding like this, or fixed term employment in the education sector or civil service. Casualisation of the workforce is a huge problem for students trying to support their study or people making future plans or trying to support their families. I will be writing something longer about the issues I think the charitable sector creates in terms of welfare and public provision, but for now, that’s my story.