Number of teachers asking for financial support from charity up 40% in a year, figures show

Exclusive: Education staff falling into rent arrears or simply unable to afford transport to work amid plummeting recruitment levels and further uncertainty around public sector wages

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Sunday 14 January 2018 23:01
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Number of teachers appealing for charity cash for basic living costs surges

Hundreds of teachers are being forced into begging a charity for cash handouts because they can no longer afford to pay housing and transport costs, The Independent can reveal.

Many are falling into rent arrears and are simply unable to afford to get to work, with the number of teachers applying for help from the UK’s main education support charity rising by 40 per cent in the past year, figures show.

Labour described the figures as “devastating”, while the Liberal Democrats said they showed teachers were being “abandoned” by the Government.

It comes as the number of new teachers joining the profession are plummeting amid stalling wages. Salaries for teaching staff in England are worth 12 per cent less in 2015 than they were in 2005.

One primary school teacher in London, a single father of two, admitted he would have been made homeless without financial help from the charity, saying he was “down to the last few quid” each month and had “nothing to fall back on”.

Figures provided to The Independent by Education Support Partnership (ESP), the UK’s only charity which provides financial support to education staff, show the number of applications for grants from teachers has surged by almost half in the past year alone.

The charity received 494 applications for grants in the 2016/17 financial year, while the figures available for this year so far – received in the eight months between April and November – already stand at 531. The spike marks a 40 per cent increase on the same period last year, and the charity expects to award a record number of grants to teachers by April.

Separate figures provided to The Independent by Turn2us, a charity which helps people in financial hardship to access charitable grants and support services, show the proportion of grants they give out to those working in education has doubled since 2010 – from 11 per cent to 22 per cent.

Public sector wages were frozen for two years by the Coalition Government in 2010. Then in 2013 the freeze turned into a one per cent annual cap for those earning more than £21,000 a year.

While firefighters and police officers were given an immediate bump in September, and there has been some movement in Scottish schools, the fate of English teachers’ salaries remains unclear. Calls from teacher unions for a 5 per cent pay rise last year have so far gone unanswered.

A newly qualified teacher starting in a school outside London can expect to earn £22,917, rising to around £28,660 if they land a job at a school in the capital – figures that have barely budged in a decade.

Automatic annual pay increases for all teachers have also been abolished, with decisions about teachers’ pay progression now usually linked to performance, rather than time in service, which many in the profession have argued places additional and unnecessary pressures to the job.

A survey of more than 12,000 teachers by the NEU in December found that one in five teachers (21 per cent) had not received a pay rise since September, and a further 30 per cent were still waiting to hear whether they would get an annual pay rise for this academic year.

In real terms, a recent study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found the wages of teaching staff in England were worth 12 per cent less in 2015 than they were in 2005. This, exacerbated by the soaring cost of living, has led to an increasing number of teaching staff forced to turn to charity for help.

Struggling teachers cited issues with housing as the primary reason they applied for grants, with more than a third of of applicants appealing due to rent and mortgage arrears. Others were struggling to cover basics such as food bills and the simple cost of getting to and from work.

The latest figures come after the latest UCAS data showed the number of people applying to become teachers had fallen by a third (33 per cent) in the past year, with 6,510 fewer applicants for teacher training this academic year compared to 2015/16 – figures branded “alarming” by school leaders.

The extent of the pressures teaching staff face was also revealed earlier this week, when figures obtained by the Liberal Democrats showed the number of teachers signed off on long-term sick leave because of pressure of work, anxiety and mental illness was up 5 per cent on the previous year, to 3,750.

Tom Smith, a 32-year-old primary school teacher and single father living in Leyton, east London, with his two children aged nine and six, told The Independent he had been “facing homelessness” before he managed to get a grant from ESP to help him cover his rent and council tax last year.

Now in his fourth year of teaching, Mr Smith said that the cost of living in London, coupled with the increasing pressure to meet targets at work, made life a “struggle” that – on a salary of £32,000 – leaves him “down to the last few quid” each month.

“Every month is down to the last few quid. I’m already three months behind on my council tax. I’ve got nothing in reserve; if the fridge breaks, if the washing machine breaks, there’s nothing to fall back on,” he said.

“I can’t do stuff with the kids. If my daughter wants to go ice skating, I’ve got to make some shit excuse because I can’t afford £30. Going food shopping is pretty bleak. The kids ask for stuff I can’t afford.

“I have no idea where I would be if I hadn’t been able to get that financial help. I don’t have rich parents; I don’t have things that a lot of people have to fall back on. I have some mates whose sofas we could have slept on, but I can imagine few more depressing things than having my life in bin bags with my two kids sleeping on mates’ sofas, especially as someone who has been to university and has a teaching qualification.

“I’m constantly waiting for things to get better. But the way things are now, I don’t see how I’m going to get my head above water. I find I have to separate my life into different sections, otherwise I’d probably go mad. When I’m Mr Smith in Year Six I’m focusing only on that, when I’m dad at home, I’m focusing on that.

“It does feel a lot like I’m just a cog, I’ve just got to blindly keep on going and hopefully I’ll come out of it. There are some people I know who would be shocked if they knew about the reality of my situation.”

A report by the government spending watchdog last September found tens of thousands of teachers had left their posts before reaching retirement age last year, leaving headteachers struggling to fill jobs with good quality candidates. Half of teaching posts in the UK were being filled with unqualified teachers, the National Audit Office warned.

Mr Smith said the financial difficulties for teachers in London was creating a “big problem” in leading the capital’s teaching population to become largely made up of people living with their parents or those from abroad on visas, causing issues with continuity.

“I thought about changing jobs. But the point for me is that I started this job because I wanted to do something that I truly believe in. It seems ridiculous to me that it’s such a struggle to do the job I love doing, and that I think is important, in this city,” he said.

“Even if I wanted to leave – which I don’t, I love living in London – it would be a huge upheaval for my kids. It seems mad that public sector workers are being priced out of where they need to be working.

“All that will end up happening is the demographic of teachers in London will become so narrow to either people who are living with their parents or – and this is happening in the school I work in – you have people from Australia and New Zealand and Canada on work visas.

“And then the turnover of staff becomes ridiculous. This is becoming a big problem in terms of the continuity in schools.”

In light of the new figures, Julian Stanley, chief executive of ESP, told The Independent: “A growing number of teachers are coming to us for help as they are struggling to make ends meet. Rent and mortgage arrears are the most common problems but others are struggling to cover basics like food bills and the cost of getting to and from work.

“Teaching continues to be one of the most highly regarded and valued professions by the public and yet this financial strain is for many, an even greater burden on top of the well-documented pressure so many already under. If we don’t support and value our teachers and their wellbeing, how can we expect them to join the profession, stay and nurture the next generation of students?”

The Teachers’ Housing Association (THA), which provides rented accommodation for teachers in housing need in several London boroughs, has seen a rise in the number of people requiring help – to the point that demand is now “far exceeding” supply.

A small survey completed by THA in Croydon last year revealed that three quarters of teachers they had helped to house had been homeless or forced to leave expensive private rented housing they were in previously.

Sian Llewellyn, chief executive of the charity, told The Independent the need among teachers for housing support in Britain was “greater than ever”.

She added: “Many of those who apply to us for housing are struggling to maintain their careers due to personal challenges which can include relationship breakdown, health issues, homelessness and stress.

“Unfortunately, demand for our housing far exceeds supply and we are keen to pursue opportunities to develop more homes to assist our applicants, many of whom fail to meet the eligibility criteria to be housed by other social housing providers.

“Sadly we are usually unable to assist those who find themselves homeless and in need of emergency housing.”

Angela Rayner MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Education, said: “These figures show the devastating impact of this Government’s decision to impose real terms pay cuts on teachers year after year since 2010.

“Despite the crisis this has created in teacher recruitment and retention, the Prime Minister has still refused to find new funding to end the cap on teachers’ pay. The next Labour Government will reverse Tory cuts to school budgets and end real terms cuts to teachers’ pay.”

Layla Moran, Liberal Democrat education spokesperson, echoed her concerns, saying: “The shocking rise in teachers being forced to seek financial help is further evidence that teachers are being abandoned by a Conservative government crippled by its own ineptitude.

“On their watch teachers are being worked to the bone and as a result are leaving the profession in their droves. It is time the Tories gave teachers a fair deal.

“The Government must end the real-term cuts to pay for teachers, fund our schools properly and stop tinkering with the curriculum for political rather than pedagogical reasons.”

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said: “It sadly comes as no surprise that the number of teachers in hardship has risen so dramatically.

“With inflation having shot ahead of teachers’ pay for so long, their pay is not keeping pace with the cost of living and some are struggling to make ends meet. For as long as this remains the case, we will continue to see teachers leaving the profession.

“There is a crisis in both teacher recruitment and retention, and it is worsening. Last week we learned that applications to the profession were down by a third in just one year. Teachers urgently need a pay rise.”

Polly Neate, chief executive at Shelter, said: “Even professionals like teachers aren’t immune from the appalling effects of our housing crisis. Despite being in full-time work, many teachers are struggling to keep up with colossal rents – so it’s sadly no surprise that rising numbers are having to apply for charitable grants to help them cope.

“Right now more than 300,000 people in Britain are homeless. While it’s promising the government delivered a budget pledging many more houses, the true test will be how many of these are actually affordable to people on normal incomes, like teachers.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Thanks to our reforms and the hard work of teachers, standards are rising in our schools, with 1.9 million more pupils in good or outstanding schools than in 2010.

“We value the work of teachers, which is why we’ve given schools greater freedom than ever before on teacher pay, enabling them to recognise and reward the best talent working in their classrooms.

“We have written to the School Teachers’ Review Body to ensure it considers the Government’s new flexible approach to public sector pay‎ when making recommendations about teacher pay in the coming year.“

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