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Healthcare assistants report skipping meals to keep up with bills

Along with social care staff, porters and others, HCAs struggle to cope with cost of living crisis and could leave NHS, survey shows
Picture of a volunteer in a food bank taking canned food off a shelf

Along with social care staff, porters and others, HCAs struggle to cope with cost of living crisis and could leave NHS, survey shows

Healthcare assistants are among low-paid public sector workers struggling to pay basic household bills, according to a UK-wide survey.

Findings from the Unison survey suggest many are being forced to skip meals, switch off heating and lighting and cut down on car journeys as the cost of living crisis deepens. The union warned that without intervention many could be forced out of the NHS, impacting wider nursing teams who could be left to pick up the slack.

More than 3,000 public service workers who earn £20,000 per year or less took part in the survey in June this year. They included healthcare

Along with social care staff, porters and others, HCAs struggle to cope with cost of living crisis and could leave NHS, survey shows

Picture of a volunteer in a food bank taking canned food off a shelf
Picture: Alamy

Healthcare assistants are among low-paid public sector workers struggling to pay basic household bills, according to a UK-wide survey.

Findings from the Unison survey suggest many are being forced to skip meals, switch off heating and lighting and cut down on car journeys as the cost of living crisis deepens. The union warned that without intervention many could be forced out of the NHS, impacting wider nursing teams who could be left to pick up the slack.

More than 3,000 public service workers who earn £20,000 per year or less took part in the survey in June this year. They included healthcare assistants and social care staff as well as hospital porters and other low-paid public sector employees such as teaching assistants.

Many said rising costs and pressures on household budgets were taking a toll on their health

Of the 1,167 healthcare staff who took part, the vast majority, 97%, said they were finding it increasingly hard to pay household bills and 87% said rising costs and pressures on household budgets were taking a toll on their health. More than a third, or 36%, reported skipping meals while a third said they were avoiding dentist appointments to save money.

Unison head of health Sara Gorton said the cost of living crisis is having a ‘terrible’ effect on nursing and healthcare staff with ‘no let-up in sight’.

‘This latest survey shines a light on the particular struggles faced by those on the lowest pay in the wider nursing family,’ she said.

‘The situation is stark. Health services rely on a huge range of support staff. If healthcare assistants, receptionists and domestics are driven out of the NHS, the pressure will be felt right through our nursing teams.’

Many health workers who took part in the survey said they were planning to increase their hours, work overtime or take a second job while about one in five, or 21%, said they would leave the public sector for a job elsewhere.

One healthcare assistant said: ‘I’m on maternity leave and my husband was off sick for three months. It’s been a real struggle and we’ve had to borrow money off family, go to food banks and collect free items from websites.

‘I’m worried that I will have to choose between heating and food in the winter.’

Nurses also say they are struggling, with some skipping meals and using food banks

Registered nurses who earn more than £20,000 say they are also struggling financially, with some reporting skipping meals and resorting to food banks to feed their families.

With the starting salary for a Band 5 nurse in 2022-23 at £27,055, there are fears many more nursing staff will face difficult choices as inflation and energy prices continue to soar.

Unison general secretary Christina McAnea said: ‘The cost of living crisis has decimated household incomes. Low-paid workers have nothing left to cut from their budgets. They’re now forced to take drastic measures which could damage their health and leave them deeper in debt. Some may never recover from the financial and emotional hit.’

Energy price cap rise set to pinch nurses and healthcare workers

Today the energy regulator Ofgem has confirmed an 80% rise in the energy price cap, taking the average households yearly bill to around £3,549 from October.

The cap, currently £1,971, will affect around 24 million homes in England, Scotland and Wales. It will come into effect on 1 October and remain in place until 31 December when it’s expected to rise again.

RCN general secretary Pat Cullen said: ‘This latest increase in heating costs will leave many terrified about how they’ll stay warm this winter.

‘Nursing staff I talked to this week were dreading this kind of announcement and fear a winter of impossible decisions at home.’

She warned the rising cost of living will drive many out of the profession.



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