Health service workers resort to loans and food banks after years of cash cuts, UNISON survey finds

Thursday 27 October 2016

Hard-pressed health service staff are turning to high-rate loans, pawning their belongings and visiting food banks as they struggle just to make ends meet, according to research by UNISON.

Financial hardship has led to almost half (49%) of those who took part in a major survey to seek financial help from friends and family in the past year alone.

The findings from the union’s annual survey of health staff across the UK underline the real financial cost of years of pay freezes as UNISON makes its case to the NHS Pay Review Body.

The study found more than one in ten (11%) had pawned possessions to ease their cashflow problems, and a similar number (10%) had turned to payday loan firms to help them cope.

Many felt the financial squeeze so acutely that it had affected their homes, with 15% either moving to a less costly property or freeing up money by re-mortgaging. Just over one in eight (13%) had sought the help of a debt advice service.

In the survey of 21,000 NHS workers, more than two thirds (67%) said they had either sought financial help or made major changes to their standards of living in the past 12 months.

Almost two thirds (63%) of those who took part said they were worse off financially than a year earlier.

The situation has been so dire for some workers that 1% had visited food banks in the past year.

The extreme difficulties faced by many workers were underlined by the numbers supplementing their incomes with extra work. Almost one in five (18%) said they had taken on further work in addition to their health service job.

More than four fifths (81%) of health workers in the survey said they had considered leaving, and more than half (52%) said they were serious about quitting.

Over the past six years, the government’s public sector pay policy means NHS pay has failed to keep pace with the cost of living, with £4.3 billion cut from salaries in real terms. Without drastic action some pay grades will fall below minimum wage levels – currently £7.20 – in Northern Ireland in 2016/17, in England and Wales the following year and by 2021 in Scotland.

UNISON and other unisons which represent the health sector want a pay award which reflects the increase in the cost of living and the introduction of a UK-wide pay scale. Additionally UNISON has called for a clear commitment that there will be changes to Agenda For Change – the NHS pay framework – which will make a minimum pay rate of £10 an hour achievable.

UNISON head of Health Christina McAnea said: “These figures paint a shocking picture of the effects of pay restraint on hardworking NHS staff. They’re having to sell or pawn their belongings, move house or ask relatives for financial help while doing critical and life-saving jobs in our health service.

“UNISON members have a strong commitment to the NHS and to patients, but they are constantly having to compromise standards to deal with pressures on the service. The NHS already has significant staff shortages in key services, but our survey shows more than half of NHS workers are seriously considering leaving their jobs as a result of dwindling pay and increased workloads – this is a message the government cannot ignore.

“NHS staff are now 14% worse off than they were in 2010, NHS finances are tighter than ever, pressure and demand in the system continues to grow, inflation is expected to rise and something has to give.

“The government needs to act now, starting with a clear strategy for improving pay before the situation deteriorates even further and we are faced with an exodus of hard-working, caring staff.”

Notes to editors:
– One worker who took part in the survey said: “I, and most of my colleagues, are financially worse off now than seven years ago. I can’t even afford to send my children to extra-curricular clubs like cub scouts and football. I have never felt as demoralised and worthless as I do right now.”
– The full staff-side submission from 13 unions representing health service workers was submitted to the NHS Pay Review Board earlier this month. UNISON’s evidence can be accessed here

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