“We used to get health and welfare requests from retirees or those not in work – but we are now getting emergency food, rent and mortgage requests from members who are in work,” said Julian Stanley, chief executive officer at the Teacher Support Network (TSN). The TSN has seen requests for help increase from 912 people to 2,981 so far this year alone, and has had to reduce the size of the grants it provides to help as many people as possible. “And we suspect this is just the tip of the iceberg,” he said.
“Poverty in this middle-class, reasonably well-paid profession of teaching is a problem entirely driven by the economic downturn,” he said. “We have private tutors and teaching assistants who have to choose between paying the bills and feeding their children. Qualified teachers living in the countryside who, because the bus services have been reduced, have to drive to work but can’t afford both to eat and pay the petrol.
“We used to get one emergency request every four or five months but now it’s at least two every month. We’ve never experienced anything like it.” Nor, he adds, have the professionals. “People in white-collar professions like teaching and lecturing have no experience of indebtedness and job uncertainty,” he says. “The shock and the stress can lead to mental health problems, reduced efficiency at work, unemployment, repossession, eviction, bankruptcy and an irrecoverable spiral downwards. It’s shocking how quickly it can happen. There are no safety nets any more.”
Judith Smith, Director of Help and Advice Services at the Charity for Civil Servants, says that the numbers of those in work and seeking help from her charity have increased. In 2005, 69% of applicants were on full pay. By last year, that had increased to 84%.
“The problem is that work is failing to provide sufficient income, and that is getting worse,” she said. “In-work poverty is a reality. It’s very hidden because people in work think they should be managing but we’re beginning to see people with apparently good jobs for whom it has become the norm to sometimes go without food so their children can eat.”
Judith, however, has very well-defined fears about the future. “If you’re struggling to be effective at work and at home, you are unlikely to be able to find the time or energy to get angry. There is, though, a clear correlation between mental and physical wellbeing, and financial hardship. I’m talking depression, family breakdowns, domestic violence, and suicides. You have to start asking: at what point does this start to affect the overall health of the nation?”