The teachers who can’t afford to eat or live

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A charity has warned of a ‘growing trend of poverty’ among teachers after it handed out £120,000 of support grants in 10 months. It says that in some cases the money has been for teachers unable to afford accommodation or food. Dorothy Lepkowska reports.

Victoria Scott had enjoyed a successful 20-year career in teaching. But in the past two months she has been forced to accept £900 in hand-outs to buy food and other essentials, and to cover the costs of declaring herself bankrupt.

The money came from the Teacher Support Network (TSN), which published details last week of the financial hardship being endured by some teachers. 

The organisation awarded nearly £120,000 between September 2012 and June 2013 to teachers in financial difficulty. In 77 out of the 200 cases it was to people who were unable to afford to pay for food and accommodation. Overall, 61 cases were serving teachers.

Of the grants awarded to supply staff, 65 per cent said it was spent on food, accommodation costs, utility bills and clothing.

Victoria, aged 49, turned to supply teaching following a major staff reorganisation at the school where she had been a permanent full-time member of staff. 

“It was a case of ‘out with the old and in with the new’, and my position became impossible,” she explained.

She was able to offer supply agencies her expertise in special needs teaching as well as her first subject of art and design, and soon found that she was being offered regular work in special schools and pupil referral units which were struggling to attract staff.

“The main problem was these schools were a long way away,” she said. “On one occasion I rented a room near the school during the week to cut back on my travel expenditure but this was unsustainable over a longer period. I was only earning about £350 a week.”

During the summer she contacted the TSN for help and, after a review of her finances, was advised to file for bankruptcy. The charity gave her £750 to begin the legal process and £150 for her own, emergency use.

“One of the indignities of being in this situation is having no money during the summer holidays, and having to sign on for Jobseeker’s Allowance. I wanted to work for a charity but was told I didn’t have the right experience, even though I’d done 20 years in teaching.”

Victoria has now moved to a different part of the country and is awaiting DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) clearance to work in schools again. She added: “The TSN have been brilliant and I don’t know what I would have done without their help.”

According to figures compiled for TSN, 28 per cent of grants – totalling £11,672 – were awarded to supply staff, many of whom struggle on zero-hours contracts. In June and July of this year alone, these hand-outs amounted to £5,068.

In previous years, grants might have been distributed to professionals for items such as fridges and washing machines, but increasingly desperate callers to the TSN are reporting that they can’t afford the basics to live. 

Comments from some of the teachers who have contacted the TSN include: 

  • “I have to reduce my heating bills and one way I do this is to go to the library every other day for a couple of hours with my three-year-old son.”

  • “Anxiety about money has caused me stress and my husband to become depressed.”

  • “I lie awake at night, worrying about how to eke out money until next month.”

  • “I often find myself panicking about any big spends that come up and how we will afford them as a family.”

  • “I’m on a low hourly wage struggling on what little is left of my savings. I work incredibly long hours and take home between £800 and £1,000 per month. There will come a time soon when I cannot afford to continue subsidising my teaching.”

Earlier studies by the TSN reveal that 80 per cent of teachers found it harder to manage their finances in 2012 and 2013 than in previous years. Two-thirds complained that money worries have affected their health at some point in the last two years. 

The TSN has now launched an online grants application programme to make the process simpler and more efficient for struggling teachers.

Julian Stanley, TSN chief executive, told SecEd: “This is a growing trend of poverty which is very disturbing. 

“Some members of the profession have become very vulnerable because of changes in schools and the economic climate generally, and are facing acute financial hardship. 

“Growing requests for financial support for basic items show that many are on the brink. 

“There is a disproportionate impact on supply teachers on zero-hours contracts. Throughout the year factors like subjects taught and geographic location can also seriously affect a teacher’s ability to find work. The summer is a difficult time for supply teachers as teaching work is almost non-existent. They are a vulnerable group who need additional safeguards to support them through difficult times.

“Financial worries prevent all teachers from doing their job properly. It is up to schools – headteachers and colleagues – to ensure that they are vigilant to financial hardship and try to help and support those affected. Government and schools must ensure that teachers have enough support, financially and emotionally.”

You can contact the TSN via www.teachersupport.info or by calling 08000 562561 (England) and 08000 855088 (Wales).


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