Teachers are facing increasing financial pressure due to changes in pensions, the public service pay freeze and proposed changes to pay negotiating terms and conditions. For some, changes to working tax credits and child benefit also mean the loss of a significant lifeline.
There are places that teachers can go for help. Last year, we gave nearly £150,000 worth of grant payments to teachers and their families. Despite this, many teachers are taking extreme measures to make ends meet.
“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,” explained one respondent to our online survey on money issues. “This means that we are both warm during the day and only have to pay for heating during the evenings.”
Another told us: “I have got rid of television, cancelled insurances, stopped eating meat, I am managing with worn down shoes, I cut phone calls to relatives and friends and turned off all heating.”
A third said: “I found that having a vintage stall on Sundays to sell off surplus old vinyl, CDs, books, clothes and general stuff was fun and stopped me wasting my Sundays spending too much time planning and worrying about the next week’s teaching.”
These teachers were not alone – 80 per cent of those who replied to our e-newsletter survey in November said they were finding things tougher than in the previous November in 2011, and 65 per cent said their money worries had affected their health.
“I lose sleep sometimes. It definitely causes anxiety,” wrote one teacher. “High stress, migraines, palpitations, high blood pressure,” listed another.
One teacher wrote that anxiety about money had “caused me stress and my husband to become depressed to the point of needing (therapy)”.
Some of the teachers said that money worries had caused them to consider quitting the profession altogether. “I love my job but as a part-time tutor I work many hours in excess of the hours I am paid for. I wonder how long I will be able to afford to continue teaching when I could work the same hours outside teaching and double my pay,” questioned one respondent.
Another admitted: “Due to … cuts, I’m now pursuing other opportunities. This means that on top of my normal workload, I’m preparing for interviews. So less time to prepare quality lessons, and of course I care less than I did. Exhausted and demoralised.”
A third told us: “I’ve been so afraid to quit teaching because of the pay cut I will have to take and this has led to the deterioration of my mental health as I find teaching too stressful.”
Other teachers who took part in the survey blamed lack of income for their money worries. “With only one income for our family of four, I often find myself panicking about any big spends that come up and how we will afford them as a family,” said one worried respondent.
“I took a cut of one-fifth in my pay,” added another. “More stressed than usual as I am still working above and beyond the contracted amount of hours, yet can’t make ends meet on the money I’m earning,” disclosed a third.
Yet, given reports that doctors, dentists, civil servants and other professions are facing similar difficulties, do teachers really need specific support? Do we all need a lesson in money management?
Perhaps the difference is that teachers are preparing the future generation of earners. Maybe we need to think of what kind of message we are sending to pupils, if teachers are forced to take such drastic measures to make ends meet.
Julian Stanley is chief executive of the Teacher Support Network. Visit www.teachersupport.info or call 08000 562 561 (England), 08000 855088 (Wales).