Key public services 'struggling to cope with shameful level of hardship'

The study by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation examined the effect of hardship on primary schools and primary and community care facilities.

Around 40% of people who work in primary schools and GP surgeries have considered quitting their job because of a “shameful” level of hardship among service users, a study has found.

The study, by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, found that primary schools and primary healthcare facilities were “staggering under the weight of hardship”, with resources having to be redirected to provide extra support to the nearly four million people struggling to pay for essentials like food, heating and appropriate clothing.

The researchers surveyed more than 1,000 staff at primary schools and primary and community care settings across England, Wales and Scotland, with 60% of respondents saying hardship had made it more difficult to do their job well, and around 40% saying hardship is a factor that is contributing to them thinking about leaving their job.

Chris Birt, associate director for Scotland at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation said: “Hardship has reached a shameful level in the UK, with almost four million people finding themselves in destitution in a single year – unable to keep themselves dry, warm and fed.

“As the parties compete to lead the UK government after 4th July, we need them to get serious about tackling the scale and depth of hardship which is afflicting millions and holding families back from building better lives.

“No plan for our schools or NHS should be taken seriously if it doesn’t include tackling hardship.

“While the responsibility for those services rests with the Scottish Government, the next UK government need to step up to their shared responsibility to bear down on the hardship that people in Scotland, and across the UK, face.

“Leaving millions to live without essential items such as enough food or heating doesn’t just rob people of options or dignity, it also adds to the pressures on the services we all rely on.

“Primary schools and GP services are staggering under the weight of hardship – it shouldn’t fall to them to ensure families are not going hungry. As a country we need our politicians to address hardship at source, not look the other way.”

Researchers found that an estimated 48% of primary school pupils have experienced hardship so far this year, resulting in pupils coming to school tired, hungry or upset, and teachers having to take time out of lessons to support them, or having to buy them food out of their own pockets.

One teacher in west central Scotland told them: “If children aren’t ready to learn – they’ve not had their breakfast, they’re hungry, or they’ve had a really troubling night … then you can see a huge shift in terms of focus and readiness … you tend to find those are the children that cry most and their behaviour is their way of saying they need help.”

There was a similar situation reported in primary and community healthcare settings, such as GP surgeries, where an estimated 57% of patients had experienced hardship over the past year, and where almost half of respondents said their workplace offered a food bank.

Researchers also found that hardship causes and exacerbates ill health, leading to more complex conditions and more frequent, longer appointments.

One GP in west central Scotland told researchers: “One patient with a cardiac problem has missed over a dozen appointments and says it’s because he can’t afford the transport – it’s a two-bus journey each way.

“This means multiple appointments with me going round in circles as we haven’t had the investigations to make a diagnosis. This then wastes multiple NHS appointments which is frustrating.”

Mr Birt said: “We still need to hear from all our politicians on how they’ll take urgent action to support families, as well as setting out bold, long-term solutions which ensure that everyone in our country can at least afford the essentials.”

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