Universal credit and no hot water: Nurses tell ITV News of financial struggles amid 1% payrise row

  • Video report by ITV News Health Editor Emily Morgan

Nurses on the frontline of the coronavirus crisis have told ITV News of the financial struggles they face on a daily basis amid a row over a proposed 1% payrise for NHS staff.

The government has come under fire for the proposed pay rise, with critics saying it amounts to a real-terms pay cut when inflation is taken into account.

Detailing the difficulties they have faced during the past year, one nurse revealed she was left without hot water for four months, unable to afford the cost of repairs, while a mother-of-two had to claim universal credit amid fears she would default on her mortgage.

Nursing Notes & Nurses United found that 85% of nurses said they are running in a financial deficit - essentially spending more each month than they earn.

And 41% of nurses they "frequently" worked below safe minimum staffing levels, putting patient care at risk.

Jemma James and her husband both have full time jobs in the NHS. A flood has left her home like a "building site", because she has been unable to fix the things which are broken.

  • 'My home was left without hot water for four months last year'

Before the pandemic she used to do extra shifts to make sure they don't run out of money.

Since Covid-19 hit, she had been taking extra shifts in a specialist coronavirus ward which has now stopped - and so has the cash.

"Because on a high dependency unit, I don't want to go to another ward which isn't Covid because there's always a thought in the back of your mind, and the ultimate fear for me is what if I kill someone?

"What if me picking up an extra shift to pay my bills leads to me killing someone? I'd rather just tighten the belt another notch than risk it."

Ms James said if there was a substantial pay rise, it may mean she could afford not to take on additional freelance work.

  • 'What if me picking up an extra shift to pay my bills leads to me killing someone?'

Leah Sparks, a specialist nurse from Essex, has also struggled financially throughout her career.

Three years ago, she became a single mother and has to care for her young twins.

Covid has left her claiming for universal credit after struggling to pay the mortgage, bills and credit cards.

She said: "It has been really hard - a few years ago I became a single parent and all the responsibility fell to me and I couldn't cope financially.

  • 'I've been forced to claim universal credit to help pay bills'

"I was on a part time salary while trying to care for my twin boys. I worked extra shifts to try to pay bills which took away from time with my sons and I applied for universal credit, which I didn't dream I'd have to do."

At work, Covid has left her and other NHS staff under immense pressure. The ratio of patients to staff means they have been unable to meet the NHS guidelines, and she says the "quality of care is going to suffer".

She added: "I don't think they are aware and I don't know how much longer we can continue the way we are."

A government spokesperson said: “Over one million NHS staff continue to benefit from multi-year pay deals agreed with trade unions, which have delivered a pay rise of over 12% for newly qualified nurses and will increase junior doctors’ pay scales by 8.2%.

“Pay rises in the rest of the public sector will be paused this year due to the challenging economic environment, but we will continue to provide pay rises for NHS workers, on top of a £513 million investment in professional development and increased recruitment.

"That’s with record numbers of doctors and 10,500 more nurses working in our NHS compared to last year, and with 2021 nursing university applications up by over a third.

“We have asked the independent pay review bodies to report in late spring and we will consider their recommendations carefully when we receive them.”

On Wednesday, Sir Keir Starmer questioned how Boris Johnson can justify giving a 40% pay rise to former chief adviser Dominic Cummings last year, but propose an increase of just 1% for NHS staff.

Speaking at PMQs, the Labour leader repeatedly attacked the proposed NHS staff pay rise, saying it amount to a real-terms pay cut when inflation is taken into account.

Mr Johnson hit back, saying NHS nurses had received a 12.% pay rise over the past three years, but Sir Keir claimed their pay had actually fallen, in real-terms, by more than £800 since 2010.

"He could afford to give Dominic Cummings a 40% pay rise, he could afford that, now he is asking NHS nurses to take a real-terms pay cut," he said, "how on Earth does he justify that?"

Mr Cummings was given a pay rise of at least £40,000 between 2019 and 2020, it emerged last year.

The prime minister said the whole country owed the NHS a "massive debt" for leading the battle against coronavirus, adding that he had "asked the public sector pay review body exceptionally to look at their pay".

Mr Johnson told the Commons thousands of nurses had been recruited since he took leadership and the government was on "target to deliver 50,000 more".

He added that the Conservatives are the "party of the NHS".

ITV News Political Correspondent Shehab Khan breaks down Boris Johnson's latest comments on the 1% pay rise

Sir Keir said he could take the PM "a bit more seriously if he hadn't spent £2.6 million of taxpayers' money on a Downing Street TV studio or £200,000 on new wallpaper for his flat".

"They say charity starts at home but I think the prime minister is taking it a bit too literally," he added.

"When I clapped for carers I meant it. He clapped for carers then he shut the door in their face at the first opportunity."

He accused the prime minister of breaking "promise after promise", pointing to a proposed pay rise for NHS staff in 2019 of 2.1%, which since been more than halved.

Watch PMQs in full:

The Labour leader questioned why Mr Johnson had previously said "wouldn't pay the price for this pandemic" if he was refusing to give them a higher pay rise.

The PM urged MPs to wait for a report from the NHS Pay Review Body, saying he not make a final decision on NHS pay before then.

He added that, in addition to pay, "one of top concerns is to have more colleagues on the wards to help them with undoubted stress and strains of pandemic".

He said there 10,000 more nurses in the NHS since last year and 60,000 nurses currently in training.

He added that the government is also on target to build 40 new hospitals.

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