Nurses and midwives may be at greater risk of facing sudden and unexpected poverty, according to the latest figures from welfare charity Elizabeth Finn Care.
The organisation, which offers financial and emotional help to those whose careers have been interrupted or ended by personal tragedy, reports that 14% of the people they help are from a nursing or midwifery background, making them the largest group helped by the charity.
Elizabeth Finn Care currently helps around 5,000 people in the UK each year, whose working lives have been interrupted or ended by physical or mental illness, family breakdown or job loss, or who are struggling to survive on a low income in retirement.
Nurses and midwives make up a high proportion of this number – people who've found themselves living below the breadline after things like injury, sickness or depression have forced them to leave work. The physically demanding nature of nurses and midwives' work, the unsociable hours, and the relatively low salaries associated with the sector mean pressures are high. On top of this, many have minimal pension provisions, meaning even those who have worked all their lives can find themselves without the money to afford basic things, such as healthy food and warm clothes in retirement.
These workers are among the UK's four million "hidden poor" who don't fit the traditional stereotypes of poverty. More than half of all those in poverty are homeowners, who often keep their money problems hidden from those around them. While the numbers of children and the elderly living in poverty have fallen with the help of long-standing government and public focus, the "hidden poor" remain largely unrecognised as they make up an increasing proportion of those living in poverty.
Many of those finding themselves in such circumstances will have the support of friends and family, but there are many without that network behind them, and that's where Elizabeth Finn Care steps in.
Marianne ten Kate, spokesperson for the charity, says there are thousands more nurses and midwives in the UK in need of support, but many are reluctant to come forward, or simply don't realise there's any help out there for them. "We're working hard to reach out to those in nursing and midwifery who have found themselves in financial and emotional difficulties, but understandably people are often too embarrassed to ask for help," she said. "It's important for us to raise awareness of the services we provide, so people know there is somebody they can turn to."
The help provided by Elizabeth Finn Care is there to fill the gaps left by statutory benefits. After making sure an applicant is receiving his or her full entitlement of state benefits, the charity will help to identify areas that aren't covered. Their financial support varies depending on individual needs from single gifts for essentials, such as a replacement fridge, or household repairs, to longer-term allowances, helping them to rebuild their lives. As well as helping financially, the organisation's work also gives emotional support.
"Living in poverty isn't just about money," Marianne ten Kate explains. "Suddenly struggling to make ends meet can leave a former breadwinner feeling worthless and rejected. When we offer our support we are saying to that person, perhaps for the first time in a long while, 'we value you and we want to hear what you have to say.' That in itself can bring about a profound change in a person's life."
For more information about Elizabeth Finn Care, and to find out how you can support the charity's work, visit www.elizabethfinncare.org.uk
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