Local MP Dr. Ben Spencer Visits RHSU

Last Friday, the Sabbatical Officer team met with Dr Ben Spencer, Member of Parliament of Runnymede and Weybridge to discuss issues affecting students including housing and accommodation, cost of living, wellbeing and safety.

officer blog

This year, with the General Election coming up, it is very important to us, as your Sabbatical Officer team that student voice is heard in parliament.

We understand the significance of ensuring that students' concerns and interests are heard and acted upon at the highest levels of government. We're taking proactive steps to advocate for your interests and address concerns on a broader scale, with a focus on engagement in parliamentary processes. We’ve been involved with All-Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs), engaging in national campaigns and looking ahead to the next general election.  

Last Friday, the Sabbatical Officer team met with Dr Ben Spencer, Member of Parliament of Runnymede and Weybridge, who has been in office since 2019. MPs serve as the bridge between the community and government. They represent the community’s interests and concerns in the House of Commons.  

We discussed several issues affecting students right now including housing and accommodation, cost of living, wellbeing and safety.  

Housing and Accommodation 

There is currently a housing crisis across the UK especially when it comes to finding accommodation that is affordable and suitable. The shortage of accommodation is causing the average rent price to rise and the quality to decrease. A Red Brick report stated that 56% of students reported a lack of affordable housing options when searching for student accommodation. 44% reported paying higher rent than initially budgeted for.  

With the MP, we discussed the breakdown of students living in London and Egham, a regional approach and the need for more social housing/housing association properties.  

Cost of Living  

Maintenance loans only increase by 2.5% in 2024/25 whilst inflation is currently at 4%. Since 2021, student maintenance loans have fallen behind inflation by around 11% with last year’s increase only rising by 2.8% despite inflation rising to 10.7%. It’s clear to see that maintenance loans are significantly behind inflation and living costs. 

The MP recognised that inflation is an issue and that inflation needs to go down.

Part-time students are also required to pay council tax and are only eligible for a 25% discount if there is only one non-full-time student in the house. The MP has agreed to write to the Education Minister on our behalf regarding the council tax payments for part-time students, specifically where they are in shared accommodation with other full-time students who therefore lose the discounted council tax. 

If a student is in financial difficulty it is recommended to reach out to the University. The MP also communicated that if someone is in the Runnymede and Weybridge constituency, they can reach out to the MP office.  

LGBT+ Community 

Transforming Access and Student Outcomes in Higher Education (TASO) reported that ‘Students belonging to the LGBT+ community reported significantly lower wellbeing and higher levels of anxiety than their straight and cis-gendered peers.’  

The MP spoke about promoting a culture of respect and dignity in Runnymede and Weybridge. He mentioned that the key is to report, mentioning the police and Borough Commander, Inspector Ian Nash.  


There was a conversation regarding safety in the local area and the issue of street lighting was raised. The MP responded by informing us of StreetSafe, a platform to report lighting issues and streets that feel unsafe. Street lighting is the responsibility of the County Council. There is currently work happening to replace bulbs with LED lights moving towards the net zero target.  


The team asked about mental health issues and stated data from Student Minds which highlighted that 57% of respondents self-reported a mental health issue and 27% stated they had a diagnosed mental health condition.    

The MP stated there is a difference between diagnosed and self-reporting and recognised that lockdown has had an impact on wellbeing, especially our generation and noted the increase in issues and concern about the long-term impact.

He mentioned a cognitive approach to the experience of stress and how education systems should teach students how to become more resilient.  

He also spoke about other work regarding campaigning to protect green space and opening a live music venue. 

International students 

We also discussed the international student experience and the changes to student immigration policies.  

It was agreed that international students should be removed from immigration stats but immigration procedures and checks are still required. The MP welcomes international students and supports a vibrant student exchange between nations. 

 There was also a conversation around the responsibility of universities to international students. The MP reiterated that students including international students are still welcome to contact his office.

Overall, our meeting with Dr. Ben Spencer was positive in amplifying student concerns and advocating for tangible solutions. As a team, we will be continuing to seek out opportunities to engage with parliament. And we will keep you all in the loop on any updates!