Written by Kamal Preet Kaur
If comments on various diaspora social media pages and WhatsApp groups are any indicator, a large number of Indian students are struggling to find feet in the UK. With high rents, ever-increasing cost of living, and not enough work opportunities with a 20-hour-work limit, the challenge to make ends meet and study in a country of their dreams, is not an easy balance to strike.
“Life in the UK is very different from the picture postcards and university brochures we see in India. I wish I had known of the struggles involved so that I could have made a different choice,” says Satish Sharma, a student from Delhi who arrived in London last September to study MBA at a ‘prestigious university’ he doesn’t want to name.
Sharma claims he could be one of the “hundreds of students or even more” who couldn’t find a room to share for weeks. “I spent every night with a different acquaintance or friends of friends of friends, until I found a room in mid-November 2022 to share with another student, at over £200 per week,” he says, almost choking as he recounts his nightmarish experience. However, he says no one has worse luck than his friend Raman Chaudhry from Rohtak who kept waiting for one of his relatives to come and pick him up at the airport hours on end, and had to be eventually “rescued” by him.
“My Chacha was to come and pick me up. He didn’t. He hasn’t picked up his phone since. UK ne zindagi ke bahut saare lesson ek saath sikha diye hain,” Raman attempts a smile.
Reema Saini from Chandigarh, who has come as a dependent spouse of a student studying MBA at Brunel University said, “We were very lucky to have found an accommodation in our extended family relations in Hayes, who let us stay with them for about 2 months until some of the friends got together to rent a whole house. Rent per month is £3000, which we all share. However, trouble is getting jobs. Time leading up to Christmas and New Year is said to be busy, but we have all struggled to find a regular job to pay for our keep.”
Akshit Patel, who works at a letting agency in Leicester, says, “It is difficult for us to let out accommodation to the students who are new in the UK as they have no credit history. There is usually a deposit which students coming from India struggle with. Also, we have conditions to not sub-let the property. Private rental market has made the most of the situation and people are renting out a room or two in their households at exorbitant prices. Students have no choice but to take whatever is available.”
A Councillor in Hillingdon, not wanting to be identified, said he had come across “fake couples” who were finding it difficult to find a suitable accommodation, and were temporarily housed by his friend in one of his properties that had been emptied for repairs. It is worse for couples who also have young children as dependants. They can’t afford a house to themselves and no one is willing to give a room to a family with children.”
Maninder Singh from Kapurthala in Punjab had come to the UK as a dependant of his wife who came to study MSc Digital Biology at the University of Manchester. “First, we struggled with a suitable accommodation in Manchester and then there was no work for weeks. All our money went into sustaining us for a couple of months. We had no work, no money to pay or eat. We shifted to London where one of our acquaintances helped me get work. We are closer to Punjabi community and if nothing works, we at least can have langar in the local gurdwaras to survive.”
This be noted that gurdwaras across UK have also seen growing number of students partake langar every day. “These gurdwaras are a huge help to students who either do not have enough money or no money at all to feed themselves. Hundreds of more meals every week are being prepared in gurdwaras across the country, be it across London, Midlands, Derby, Leicester, Bristol, Manchester, Leeds or Glasgow, to meet growing needs of the congregation,” says Manpreet Singh, a member of the Supreme Sikh Council UK.
“Finding rooms near places of study, finding suitable work within allowed hours and keeping up with the ever-increasing costs of living in the UK are the factors no one considers seriously. Also, study here is very different from India and some students really do struggle with language and other expectations,” says Shami Dhiman, who has her own nephew and her husband’s niece come and live with them in Derby. “It has affected our own quality of life as a family but we can’t let our kin without roof over their heads or food in their belly. It’s not easy to make such accommodations but it is difficult to explain it to our relatives in India”.
Talking to The Indian Express, Satinder Mann, an Overseas Visitors Supervisor at Kings College Hospital in London, says, “I would like to advise the students who are interested in coming to the UK for further education, to do their research around the subject they want to study and the financial pressures, rather than using this just as an opportunity to enter the UK. With 20 hours a week working allowance, subject to them getting a job, they can only earn up to £150 and cost of living here is well over £1k a month.”
Blue Plaque for Princess Sophia Duleep Singh
Princess Sophia Duleep Singh, one of the granddaughters of Sher-e-Punjab Maharaja Ranjit Singh, is among the six public figures this year who have been nominated for a commemorative English Heritage Blue Plaque. She will have the plaque in her name at the Hampton Court Palace apartment given by Queen Victoria to Princess Sophia and her sisters to reside in.
“The achievements of this year’s plaque recipients’ range across many fields, including the arts, music, social reform and activism. Other notable figures to be honoured include suffragettes Emily Wilding Davison and Princess Sophia Duleep. We will be announcing further recipients throughout the year,” reads a statement by The English Heritage.
It further states, “Daughter of the deposed Maharajah DuleepSingh (who already has a plaque in Holland Park) and goddaughter of Queen Victoria, Princess Sophia Duleep Singh was an active suffragette and made full use of her royal title to generate support for female enfranchisement. She was a dedicated member of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) and the Women’s Tax Resistance League (WTRL). The plaque will mark the large house near Hampton Court Palace which was granted to Sophia and her sisters as a grace and favour apartment by Queen Victoria in 1896”.
“Princess Sophia Duleep Singh will finally get the recognition she deserves…She is in good company with violin maestro Yehudi Menuhin, suffragette Emily Wilding Davison, founder of the Notting Hill Carnival Claudia Jones, pre-Raphaelite model and muse Marie Spartali Stillman and Ada Salter, social champion for Southwark and Bermondsey…and yes, there is something in my eye.” tweeted Anita Anand, author of Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary, sharing the news of the commemoration.
Talking to the IE, Anand said, “I am overjoyed that Princess Sophia will be commemorated with a blue plaque. It is a mark of her greatness and her contribution to the rights of women and democracy. She never courted publicity in life, but she deserves both attention and respect. This plaque gives her both.”
The English Heritage London Blue Plaques scheme celebrates the link between significant figures of the past and the buildings in which they lived and worked. The scheme runs on public suggestions, the main conditions of acceptance for which are that a subject should have been deceased for at least 20 years, and at that least one building in Greater London in which they lived or worked should survive with a substantially unaltered exterior.
Ethnic minority elderly hit more by soaring costs
An informal study conducted by a Coventry-based charity Ekta-Unity has found that the “older people from ethnically diverse and marginalised communities in Coventry and Warwickshire are being more harshly hit by increasing costs. It is alleged that many elderlies who use the charity services are no longer able to afford to pay their bills, rent or mortgage, with many of them considering downsizing to meet their needs.
“Over the past few months, our organisation has witnessed first-hand the ‘disproportionately large impact’ of covid and the cost-of-living crisis on our elderly service users,” says Sanjay Jagatia, the CEO of the charity organisation which supports over 450 people from the Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities, 80% of whom are of the Indian origin, while others are from different Muslim, Afro-Caribbean, Romanian, Polish and Ukrainian communities. The charity also holds pop-up health and well-being clinics at different community and religious locations across Warwickshire for the elderly, including in gurdwaras, temples, mosques and community centres.
The charity claims to give support to those experiencing loneliness, isolation, underlying mental health conditions, chronic health conditions and other disabilities. “Our volunteers support them with their shopping at budget supermarkets due to rising cost of food. Despite this, many of them are still only able to afford one meal a day. This often consists of beans, soup and toast, resulting in adverse health consequences. Many have had to stop their tiffin service as they couldn’t afford it anymore,” says Jagatia.
“Many healthcare professionals assume that the elderly from the BAME communities have their families looking after them. Adult social care is especially difficult to navigate for those who do not have English as their first language. Urgent steps need to take to better support the needs of the elderly from the BAME communities for them to live equally dignified lives as their White counterparts,” he said.
(The writer is a freelance journalist based in London contributing content to digital, print, radio and TV platforms.)