‘Teachers have to use food banks… the pay is that bad’

7th July 2017 at 00:00
School staff in the grip of years of real-terms pay cuts are increasingly being forced to seek financial support from charities, reports Martin George

Stories of hard-pressed families turning to food banks have become symbols of hardship in the age of austerity.

Now there are claims that some teachers are under such financial pressure that they too are turning to the same solution.

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the ATL teaching union, says: “I have heard of teachers now resorting to using food banks.

“Once newly qualified teachers have paid the student loan repayments, tax and national insurance, nearly half their wages are taken from their pocket before they see it.”

And there are other indications of the increasing hardship being faced by teachers.

The Education Support Partnership saw a 122 per cent rise in the number of grants it gave to teachers with housing costs between June 2016 and May 2017, compared with the same period the previous year.

Carl Hanser, a case worker for the charity, says: “More education professionals, including teachers and teaching assistants, are coming to us extremely stressed because they are experiencing financial difficulties, particularly relating to the rising costs of housing and travel. Their rents are rising faster than their salaries, so they are struggling to keep up.”

Teachers suffered a real-terms cut of £3 an hour in median pay between 2005 and 2015, according to the government’s own figures. However, this does not necessarily mean each individual is being paid less. The academics who compiled those figures for the Office of Manpower Economics found that the cut could be explained by controlling for changes in the composition of the teaching workforce.

But even if this real-terms pay cut is a product of a younger, cheaper workforce, squeezed school budgets could still be to blame for the hardship endured by some teachers.

Not everyone appears to be suffering, however. This week, academies pioneer Lord Adonis called for curbs on the salaries of the growing number of academy chain chief executives paid more than the prime minister (bit.ly/AdonisPay).

Meanwhile, government figures show that the number of school leaders earning more than £100,000 nearly doubled from 700 in 2010 to more than 1,300 in 2016.

And it is worth noting that the Education Support Partnership still only gave out 244 housing grants to teachers between June 2016 and May 2017. But the trend is clear. A NASUWT teaching union survey of more than 11,000 teachers this spring found that almost a third had cut spending on food, and 7 per cent had taken second jobs because of declining pay.

‘Increasingly impoverished future’

The latter phenomenon is also cited by Andrew Ground, chief executive of private tuition agency Tutorfair, who says: “There’s definitely more tutoring going on, and definitely more teachers signing up with us.”

Young teachers told this year’s NASUWT conference that they could not afford to have children, have a full nutritious meal every day or even afford a television licence.

“Many teachers are increasingly relying on credit cards and overdrafts and are having to delay paying bills or put off essential household repairs as they just don’t have the money,” says the union’s general secretary, Chris Keates. “Without action to reverse the pay cap, many teachers face an increasingly impoverished future, if they can afford to stay in the profession at all.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Teaching remains an attractive career, with more people entering the profession than leaving it. We are investing £1.3 billion up to 2020 to continue to attract the best and the brightest into teaching.”

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