INFLATION AND PAY CUTS ‘A PERFECT STORM’ – says ATL teachers leader Mary Bousted

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The ATL union taking action against pension cuts
The ATL union taking action against pension cuts

An overwhelming majority of teachers, lecturers and support staff have noticed a change for the worse to their living standards since the 2008 financial crisis, according to an Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) survey.

More than 80% of respondents said they have less disposable income now, with 43% saying they ‘have a lot less’ and 40% saying they ‘have a little less’ to spend.

Incomes of those that now ‘have a lot less’ to spend ranged from below average earners to those on middle incomes – 19% earned £19,999 or less, 17% earned £20,000 to 29,999, 33% earned 30,000 to 39,999, 18% earned £40,000 to 49,999 and 4% earned £50,000 or more.

Unsurprisingly, the main pressures on household incomes came from rising petrol prices (cited by 61%), the rising cost of food (60%) and the increases to utility bills (54%).

In order to pay their bills, education staff are: increasing their debt (17%, with an additional 3% considering a loan to see them through; taking on additional paid work (12%) and looking for a higher-paying job outside education (12%).

As a result of this financial pressure, 78% said they are now more careful with the way they spend money.

Over a third (34%) say they save very little and more than a quarter (26%) said they live pay-day to pay-day. |

Seventy two per cent said they owed money; with 50% of respondents having a home mortgage, 28% a credit card debt, 19.5% a bank overdraft, 15% a student loan, 15% a personal bank loan, 15% a car loan and 10% borrowing money from family and friends.

Sixteen per cent of respondents said they’re finding it difficult to repay their debt(s), while 10% felt they were close to defaulting within the previous 12 months.

The lean times have led to education staff: buying less expensive food (49%, with an additional 18% buying less food); buying fewer clothes for themselves (45%); buying fewer clothes for themselves and their family (58%, with an additional 11% saying they don’t buy clothes for themselves so they can buy things for their children instead); buying fewer treats for themselves (44%); buying fewer treats for themselves and their family (56%); buying no treats for themselves (23%); eating out less (40%) or not eating out at all (16%); and socialising less (27%) or not socialising at all (7%).

ATL general secretary Mary Bousted said: ‘The current economic conditions are making life very difficult for our members.

‘This perfect storm of rising inflation, pay cuts and pay freezes has caused most of our members to make major changes to their lifestyles.

‘We have concerns that staff taking on extra work may be too tired or distracted to perform to their best ability.

‘Of course this is to the detriment of pupils because teaching is a demanding job which requires their full concentration.

‘At a time when we’re facing a surge in the need for primary and language teachers we can’t allow good teachers to leave.

‘Mr Gove needs to stand up for the profession.’

A member of support staff working in West Sussex said: ‘I struggle daily to balance finances. Some weeks I have absolutely no money, it’s stressful and upsetting.’

A teacher working in Hertfordshire spoke of ‘a constant worry when you don’t have money for food and petrol’.

A head of department working in Suffolk said: ‘While I spent four years at university to qualify as a teacher for the benefit of young people, the current government has shown how little they value the profession by effectively reducing our salaries in real terms every year since the crisis began.

‘There’s absolutely no way I would recommend teaching as a profession to young people now.’

A teacher working in Harrow said: ‘I am working harder to maintain my standard of living, having gone from part-time back to full-time.’

A teacher in Worcestershire said: ‘With three children in child care, rising petrol costs, increased pension contributions (unfairly based on my full-time equivalent salary) and loss of child benefit, it actually costs me to go to work.

‘I am lucky my husband works in the private sector and receives regular pay rises and bonuses; were it not for this, there is little doubt that I would have been financially forced out of a job which I absolutely love and am good at.’

A head of department working in Warwickshire said: ‘I’ve never felt so stressed about my finances – I worry that I have no savings and no means of building any up as I’m living hand to mouth each month.

‘I’m in a good job, but if you’re single in today’s economy, you’re sunk.’

A member of support staff working in Lancashire said: ‘I have become poorer over the past five years.

‘I have recently had a baby and it is becoming increasing difficult to feed my family, keep them warm and clothed even when working. My husband cannot work because of a disability, and it is left to me to support the family.

‘I had to enter an IVA two years ago because I was drowning in too much debt and couldn’t find a way out.

‘I am now looking at the prospect of my children being brought up in poverty as the benefit cuts or freezes are not matching the rise of inflation.’

A head of department working in Belfast said: ‘It seems like I will never get a chance to save for a retirement, or that I will be able to retire until the last possible moment.

‘I couldn’t afford to send my kids to university and I foresee a miserable old age of penury despite working part-time, full-time or doing voluntary work since I started university (yes, I worked to pay my own way through university and teacher training).

‘I have two master’s degrees, which I paid for myself, but I still cannot find a way to achieve financial security.’

A teacher working in Surrey said: ‘I don’t feel I am earning enough for the amount of hours I put in. I will consider changing profession if things don’t improve.’

A lecturer working at a FE college in Somerset said: ‘I haven’t had any problems repaying debts because the family go without other things in order to pay for them.

‘My pay has been frozen for at least four years, my pension contributions have risen and we have no savings – not looking too bright for the future despite having worked hard all our lives.’

A teacher working in Hampshire said: ‘Having gradually increased the amount of days I work a week from two to four plus, with some extra supply in my school, I feel I am worse off although I’m now working double the time. This can’t be right or sustained!’

A member of support staff working in a FE college in Cambridgeshire said: ‘My husband and I are finding it very difficult to get other jobs, to clear the debt and are living from month to month.

‘We are very frightened about the prospect of redundancy and losing our house, which has no equity. I also have no children and always worked, but get nothing in return.’

A head of department working in an independent school in Cambridgeshire said: ‘We are hovering on the edge of debt and it’s very uncomfortable; our savings are gone. We’re now moving forward plans to downsize our house, before rather than after I retire.’

A member of support staff working in Gloucestershire said: ‘To ensure I can still live in my house and have a level of independence, I have a part-time job as well as my school role. I work for Sainsbury’s serving on the tills.

‘It means I see less of friends, who are now acquaintances, and I don’t play sport or socialise as regularly due to little time, or not able to join in with social events due to work commitments.’

A teacher working in Cheshire said: ‘We have to think carefully before making any financial decision, large or small. It is constantly on one’s mind and we live on an overdraft for a portion of the month every month. As monthly debits increase at this time of year it is most worrying as my pay will not rise to match these increases and we will need to spend less elsewhere again.’

• The ATL surveyed 778 teachers, lecturers, support staff and members of the leadership team in England, Wales, Scotland and the North of Ireland in March 2013 ahead of its Annual Conference which took place at Liverpool BT Convention Centre, from 25-27 March.