In December 2008, when my son was 17 months old, a few days before Christmas, my partner Ian was sacked from his job as a recruitment consultant.
Except he wasn’t, because the company he worked for (and had for years) claimed in the letter they sent that it was not a dismissal or a redundancy, it was a termination of contract, which turned out to be them breaking employment law.
Working in recruitment was not fun. In the space of a couple of years his wages dropped from about 18K to not much above minimum wage as various small firms he worked for made cuts or went bust. The duties didn’t decrease though – he was on call at all times with company phones that rang through the night whenever a company needed a replacement driver or an agency driver failed to turn up. On two different holidays he was told at the last minute he couldn’t come because someone else was off sick. The same happened for my 20 week scan.
I remember sitting on the bottom step looking at the P45 in disbelief while Ben tried to clamber into my lap dressed in his santa suit. I didn’t know what we were going to do. I was working a day a week and looking after my little boy and we needed his wages to keep going.
It turned out to be something that took our family in a new and completely different direction. A few months later, looking through a local newspaper I saw an advert for nursing courses at a local university and started writing down the date of the open day for my Access students when something clicked.
It took Ian three years to qualify as a mental health nurse. He studied at Uni for a few weeks at a time, and inbetween was out on block placements in a variety of settings. I remember hearing about his grimmer experiences, from the stomach churning to the deeply sad, and thinking what a specific skillset nursing needs – compassion, a thick skin, a strong stomach and a sense of humour. Not something I could do. Luckily, he could – and the family kept going financially due to his bursary. He’s since received an award from his trust after being nominated by his patients.
It’s a set of skills I’ve seen in bucketloads in the many many nursing students who have passed through my access psychology classes over the years too. My students have life experiences that would make your jaw drop, and what that gives them is something money can’t buy: empathy.
So it is devastating to know that, without a fight, this government will take away the bursary these students need to justify their time in education to themselves. How can we possibly be at a point where it is acceptable to tell people they are not only not going to be paid for changing bed pans and draining ulcers, and that instead they need to pay for the privilege?
I know already what will happen to these brilliant working class students and their skills. They will go for the cheaper option and take the route of the new nursing associate apprenticeship – and end up doing the same work for less pay, worse conditions, and reduced professional status.
I’m very glad to have got the backing of West Mids UCU to take this fight to congress. The attack on nursing qualifications is an attack on the working class and an attack on women in the workplace. For this along with the outrageous attempt to force through junior doctor contract changes, we need to get rid of Hunt. Let’s stand with the people who give up so much of their lives to be with our loved ones in their worst moments – and take out the tories who dare to devalue the work they do.