Living hand to mouth – how nurses deal with the reality of pay restraint The real-terms salary cut of recent years has taken a heavy toll on NHS staff and their families. Sally Gillen reports on the daily struggle to make ends meet As the battle rages over the 2014/15 pay deal for nurses, Nursing Standard spoke to staff across the UK to find out how they have been affected by the 2010-2012 pay freeze and the 1 per cent rise this year. Nurses have had a real-terms pay cut of 9 per cent since 2010, as a result of a 14 per cent rise in the cost of living during that period. Hundreds of nursing staff responded to our survey. Many of them are lone parents struggling on one wage, while some have become the sole breadwinner because their partner is out of work. Glasgow-based cardiothoracic nurse Karen Millar has two children aged eight and ten. Her partner is unemployed and she says it is increasingly difficult to make her band 5 salary stretch. ‘It is very stressful. Children want things so I am scrimping and scraping, but the kids have to go without sometimes. I am living hand to mouth,’

she says. ‘Electricity bills are going up and the cost of food has risen a lot. I really have to budget.’ Ms Millar works occasional bank shifts to supplement her income, which has not risen significantly since she reached the top of her pay band in 2009.

‘I DO NOT LIKE TAKING OUT PAYDAY LOANS, BUT I HAVE NO OTHER OPTION’ With careful planning, she can just about meet the cost of essential items, but any unexpected expense tips her into debt. ‘I have taken out payday loans when I have had special expenses, such as one of the children’s birthdays,’ she explains. ‘I do not like doing it because you are just throwing money away, but I have no other option.’ The increase in applications to the RCN Benevolent Fund, which makes one-off awards to applicants, is an indicator of the financial pressure nurses

are under. In 2003, there were 102 applications for financial assistance. A decade on, that figure is 331. RCN welfare officer Claire Cannings says: ‘We are finding that people are doing all right and then one of their variables changes – perhaps one of their children goes to university or the exhaust needs replacing on the car – and they have no savings to pay for it. ‘People are struggling more day to day and by the time they come to us the extent of their debt has escalated. For some, it is a choice between filling the car or putting food on the table.’ When his car needed new tyres and a service, one hospice nurse had to save for three months to pay the £400 bill. As a private sector nurse on a salary of £21,000, he cannot even look forward to the incremental rises that some of his NHS colleagues enjoy. He swapped a lucrative job at a private nutrition clinic to become a nurse, inspired by the excellent care his parents had received. But he is considering leaving the profession, despite the job satisfaction it brings, because of the daily struggle to make ends meet. He boosts his income by £500 a month by doing agency shifts,

Baked beans, extra bank shifts and rationed toilet paper ‘The price of food is a problem. At the moment I am living until the end of the month on baked beans and rice as a staple. The heating is not needed too much yet, but it is going to become a problem.’ ‘I shop on a tight budget as it is.  I have even limited my toilet roll  to two or three squares. I have  not had a holiday in years.’ ‘We were already struggling financially. With a significant

‘There used to be a little money left over each month for treats. Now it is about reducing bills. Christmas must be cheaper this year and no holidays. There is no money for life’s little treats ‘It makes me feel depressed,  disillusioned and under-appreciated  and I can only see it getting worse.’ when the service we provide is one  ‘I don’t do anything on my days off.   Just work and sleep. On annual leave  of the most important to people.   days I work bank shifts to get extra  We are helping to save lives and  money to pay the bills. I am a single  effect change in people’s lives,  parent so have to support my two  but we get very low pay and no  daughters the best I can.’ thanks.’

increase in pension contributions and a decrease in travel expenses from July 1, we have seen a real-terms decrease in income of more than £500 per month.’

14  november 13 :: vol 28 no 11 :: 2013  NURSING STANDARD Downloaded from by ${individualUser.displayName} on Dec 07, 2015. For personal use only. No other uses without permission. Copyright © 2015 RCNi Ltd. All rights reserved.



but this leaves him with just one free day a month. ‘I do not think the government can have a true picture of what we do,’ he says. ‘We are seen as cheap labour when actually we provide specialist care. Many nurses are exhausted all the time, so maybe that is why some of the mistakes are happening.’

60-hour week

Linda is a band 5 mental health nurse in the West Midlands. She describes her pay as ‘stagnant’. ‘I do not want to move up to a band 6 role because I am happy being a staff nurse, but my pay is stagnant at a time when everything else is going up.’ Some weeks she works 60 hours – a combination of her full-time job plus bank shifts – to pay for luxuries such as holidays. ‘I am trapped in nursing now because I cannot afford to be out of work. I was hoping to retire in January when I am 60, but I will have to carry on until I am 66 even though I am getting a bit too old for this.’ Ms Cannings urges nurses to get in touch if they need advice on making their salary go further, adding that some nurses may not be aware they could be entitled to benefits such as tax credits. ‘In some cases we are able to get debts written off, although this will not of course be the case for everyone. We can get repayments down to as little as £1 a week if that is all someone can afford’ NHS Employers chief executive Dean Royles has called for a pay freeze to be imposed next year, saying that even a 1 per cent rise is unaffordable. ‘I would love to be able to recommend an increase in nurses’ pay for the tremendous work they do, but a period of restraint means we have been able to retain more staff in employment than would have been the case’ NS For advice on managing your finances or for financial assistance, contact the Cavell Nurses’ Trust on 0808 1234 999 or RCN welfare on 0345 408 4391

I WORRY UNTIL PAYDAY COMES AROUND Jennie Scarlett, a band 5 community nurse in the south of England, has three children, two of them adults and one who is 16. All three live at home. Her husband was out of work for a year, during which time she was the breadwinner. ‘We were living on credit cards, when the boiler broke down and then we needed a new car. I ended up taking out a £10,000 loan to pay for it all. ‘Community nurses used to get an essential car user allowance of between £50 and £60 a month, but that was abolished in July. ‘Nationally, we get 67p mileage now, but that drops to 25p after

you have done 3,500 miles. I can do anywhere between 20 and 90 miles a day, so I am going to be out of pocket. ‘As an end of life nurse, I drive all over the county. Sometimes I visit a patient several times in one day. ‘I have done everything I can to make savings. I have switched energy suppliers and my new car runs on diesel so it will be more efficient, but it is still hard to make my salary stretch. ‘By week three of the month, I always start to worry about how we will manage until payday. This is the first year in the past five that I have been able to go away for a week and I did extra work each month to pay for it.’

NURSING STANDARD  november 13 :: vol 28 no 11 :: 2013  15  Downloaded from by ${individualUser.displayName} on Dec 07, 2015. For personal use only. No other uses without permission. Copyright © 2015 RCNi Ltd. All rights reserved.

Living hand to mouth - how nurses deal with the reality of pay restraint.

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