Health service staff are turning to high-rate loans, pawning their belongings and visiting food banks in order to try and make ends meet, a union has claimed on the back of survey findings.
Financial hardship has led 49% of those who took part in the survey by Unison to seek financial help from friends and family in the past year.
The findings, from the union’s annual survey of health staff across the UK, underlines the financial cost of years of NHS pay freezes, said Unison.
Along with other unions, it is currently making its yearly case in favour of staff salary increases to the NHS pay review body, which makes a recommendation to the government on the issue.
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The survey results, plus other information on the cost of living for nurses and other NHS staff, has been submitted to the body as evidence of the need for an end to the current 1% pay cap.
In the survey of 21,000 NHS workers, 67% said they had either sought financial help or made major changes to their standards of living in the past 12 months.
Similarly, 63% of those who took part said they were worse off financially than a year earlier and 18% said they had taken on further work in addition to their health service job.
“These figures paint a shocking picture of the effects of pay restraint”
The survey also revealed that 81% of respondents said they had considered leaving the health service and 52% said they were serious about quitting.
Meanwhile, smaller numbers had been forced into drastic action, with 11% pawning possessions to ease their cash flow problems, and a similar 10% turning to payday loan firms to help them cope.
The union’s finding on payday loans appears to chime with data released yesterday by a company working in the sector (see below).
Meanwhile, 15% had considered either moving to a less costly property or freeing up money by re-mortgaging, and 13% had sought the help of a debt advice service.
The situation had been so dire for 1% of survey respondents that they said they had visited food banks in the past year.
One worker who took part in the survey said: “I am financially worse off now than seven years ago, as are most of my colleagues.
“I can’t even afford to send my children to extra-curricular clubs like cub scouts and football,” they said. “I have never felt as demoralised and worthless as I do right now.”
Commenting on its findings, Unison highlighted that the government’s public sector pay policy over the past six years meant NHS salary rises had failed to keep pace with the cost of living.
The union said it had calculated that, overall, the gap between the two represented a £4.3bn cut from salaries in real terms.
Without “drastic action”, it warned that some Agenda for Change pay bands would fall below minimum wage levels – currently £7.20 – in Northern Ireland during 2016-17, in England and Wales the following year and by 2021 in Scotland.
Unison and other healthcare unions have called for a pay award that they say should reflect the increase in the cost of living.
Additionally, Unison has called for a clear commitment that there will be changes to Agenda For Change that will make a minimum pay rate of £10 an hour achievable.
Its 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.
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“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,” she said.
“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,” said Ms McAnea.
She added: “The government needs to act now, starting with a clear strategy for improving pay before the situation deteriorates even further.”
The full staff-side submission from 13 unions representing health service workers was submitted to the NHS Pay Review Board earlier this month, including Unison’s.
Lender highlights nursing staff taking out payday loans
Data from over 160,000 payday loan applications, taken since January 2015, shows a “shocking” number of people in the health and social care sector are turning to payday loans to bridge financial shortfalls, a company from the sector has warned.
Nurses, healthcare assistants and professional carers were particularly likely to feel the need to apply for a payday loan, according to figures released by CashFloat.
Survey finds 11% of NHS staff resorting to payday loans
It claimed the statistics represented the most accurate figures released to date on the numbers of people applying for payday loans.
It found people who worked in the health and social care sector accounted for just over 10% of all those who were in employment and who made applications for payday loans.
Of those working in health and social care who have applied for loans, 19% were nurses, 18% were professional carers and 11% were healthcare assistants.
When projected across the sector, the firm said the data indicated that up to 35,000 nurses may have applied for payday loans since January 2015.
The data was taken from all applications, from those in employment, made to CashFloat since January 2015.