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I qualified as a nurse seven years ago and worked constantly until the pandemic started, when I was told that I had to shield because of a pre-existing health condition. I couldn’t work at all and this made things really difficult for me.

Financially things were bad before, but then they got much worse. I’m a single parent with sole responsibility for my four-year-old son. I had historical debts, including rent arrears, of more than £18,000, with interest being added all the time.

Declaring bankruptcy

Things became so bad that I felt my only choice was to file for bankruptcy. There was no way on earth I could manage and I felt it was just killing me. The RCN was very helpful at this time, giving me a lot of support.

Although there are some negative aspects to being declared bankrupt, right now I feel I can finally sleep. I’m not afraid of emails anymore or someone knocking on the door demanding money. Before I was just afraid all the time – but at least now I have a clean slate and can start afresh. 

I'd always thought that by training to be a nurse I would have a decent standard of living

I have a council flat and rent is more reasonable. But I’m still very anxious about other bills, including paying gas, electricity and food. For me, I think it means I’ll need to work even more to be able to pay my way – but then I’ll have to find the money for extra childcare to look after my son and that’s another cost.

I’m currently on a full-time year-long course to enhance my nursing qualifications. Although it’s funded, my income is still quite low, so I try and work some weekends for an agency if I can to help make ends meet, but it can be exhausting.

No money and no time

Already I feel that I don’t spend enough time with my son and it worries me. Sometimes he wants to go to the park at the weekend when it’s sunny, but I just can’t do it because either I have to work or study. You always want the best for your child and when you can’t give it, it haunts you.

You always want the best for your child and when you can’t give it, it haunts you

I’d always thought that by training to be a nurse I would have a decent standard of living and not be in debt, but I know I’m not the only nurse who has had to file for bankruptcy. It feels wrong that this is the case. Some people assume that nurses earn a lot of money. But you have to work a lot to be paid well and the hours can be very long, starting early in the morning and not finishing until 7 or 8pm at night.

Something has to give – and at the moment my child ends up being the one who is suffering. This early age is very important and I need to be there for him, as time goes fast. Sometimes you hear people say ‘my mum wasn’t there for me’. I don’t want that to be me. But I’m hoping that in the future I might be able to get a job with more regular hours, so I can spend more time with him. Being able to strike a balance is the most important thing.

*Name has been changed to protect member anonymity
Main image: Getty stock image

Our fight for fair pay 

The RCN is campaigning for an NHS pay rise of 5% above inflation, to help address the cost-of-living crisis and encourage people to stay in the nursing profession.
You can help our fight for fair pay by having impactful conversations with colleagues, and telling your friends, family and the public how vital pay is to ensure services are safely staffed.
Sign up to become a campaign supporter and order campaign materials to display in your workplace.
Find out more and get involved with our campaign for fair nursing pay

Where can I get help? 

Whether you’re finding it increasingly hard to make ends meet or feeling overwhelmed by spiralling debts, the RCN provides a broad range of financial advice and support, so you can begin to gain control again. 

The first step is to take a look at our financial wellbeing pages, says RCN Welfare Adviser Ian King. “Use our online guidance to see what strategies might help you improve your own situation, directing you towards what to do next,” says Ian. “There is lots of help out there, so don’t think you’re on your own.” 

Our resources include a budget planning tool and a financial wellbeing checker, which signposts you towards further support, depending on your individual circumstances. The webpages also provide help with claiming various benefits and dealing with specific money worries, such as rent arrears or overpayment of wages, benefits or tax credits. 

“Often a sudden and unexpected drop in income can be a trigger for needing help,” says Ian. For example, injury or illness, a partner leaving, or fleeing domestic abuse. “In these different circumstances, someone may not know what kinds of benefits they’re eligible to claim or the various sources of support that could be available,” he says. Alongside welfare benefits, in a limited number of situations these can include charitable grants, referrals to discretionary funds or voucher schemes for food and energy.    

While the RCN can’t currently offer advice about regulated debts such as credit cards and loans, we do have guidance on how to take control of debts, including what to do if you don’t have enough money to pay your creditors after paying your essential living costs. There is also support for those facing a “debt emergency”, such as court or bailiff action, eviction or disconnection.  

The RCN’s Welfare Service offers one-to-one telephone appointments, which can be made via our advice team on 0345 772 6100. 

“But before you contact us, we strongly advise you to look at the online advice and complete all the tools and checkers relevant to your circumstances,” says Ian. “You may find they answer your query without the need for an appointment.”  

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