In June of this year, the National Union of Students carried out a survey of roughly 3,500 students into their financial situations, concerns and how they feel about the current cost of living crisis. I believe that this may be affecting midwifery and other healthcare students more dramatically due to vulnerabilities midwifery students have as a results of the demands of their course and the demographics of student midwives.
Some of the results that stood out most to me were that 96% of students were ‘cutting back’, with half of the respondents saying that they had cut back on food. Food bank usage amongst students had more than doubled between January and June of this year. 92% of the students surveyed said that their financial situation and the associated worry were affecting their mental health. At a time when the staffing crisis means that we need to retain as many student midwives as possible, adding financial stress to the burden of an already intense, difficult and stressful degree seems unlikely to achieve higher retention of student midwives.
Student midwives are also more affected than students on less intense courses as, due to the course demands it is difficult to work during a midwifery degree. Midwifery degrees typically run for 46 weeks of the year and require full time (40 hours a week) hours during both theory and placement blocks. If you add to this the fact that 44% of nursing and midwifery students are over 25, according to The Higher Education Statistics Agency, many of whom have children, we can see that midwifery students are especially vulnerable to the cost of living crisis. This is confirmed by the results of the NUS survey, which found that mature students and student parents were more affected.
In the NUS survey, one nursing student is quoted as saying,
“It’s discrimination for those who have mortgages on their own trying to better careers especially nurses with the nursing staffing crisis. How does £700 month cover food petrol gas electric mortgage of £400 per month internet etc? We are told not to work more than 12 hours. And if we have to we shouldn’t be on the course? How is this acceptable so before we apply we have to rely on someone else financially? Or have an endless pot of money? It’s discrimination for single mature students trying to build a career”
This quote hit me hard, beautifully summing up some conversations I have had and some things that I have worried about myself.
Of particular interest to me personally (having waited a terribly long time to begin my degree due to the prohibitive costs of childcare) is the childcare situation for students. Student midwives are officially classed as ‘unemployed’ and are therefore unable to access the 30 hours of free childcare for 3 and 4 year olds that families with two working parents have available to them. Combine this with the UK having the most expensive childcare system in the world according to ‘Pregnant Then Screwed’, a maternity rights campaign group, with the average cost for a full day of childcare for a two year old being £61 and you can see that childcare availability and cost is a significant issue for many student midwives. There is a current petition asking for the 30 hours of free childcare to be extended to healthcare students available to sign here – https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/616557
The National Union of Students is calling upon the government to put together a package of cost of living support specifically aimed at students, who often fall through the gaps in the current support systems.
You can sign their petition here – https://www.nus.org.uk/campaign-hub/cost-of-living-crisis?i=0
According to the Royal College of Midwives, student midwives leave university with an average of £41,000 of debt. From 2023, the repayment threshold for graduates will drop to £25,000 a year, which means that the midwives who graduate in 2026 they will be paying off their loans immediately. They will also be required to pay for 40 years, rather than the current 30, meaning they will repay far more of their debt. At a time when the RCM is balloting members on the subject of a strike over pay, the additional financial stress of student loan repayments on newly qualified midwives seems likely to me to create an additional obstacle to entry of the profession.
As a current student, talking to other students, financial stresses come up regularly in conversation. The future midwives I am training with are all passionate, care deeply about the experiences of the families they will care for and are at the same time, worried that their own financial situations will conflict with their degree. In the current climate, with report after report of unsafe staff numbers and midwives leaving the profession in droves, the government needs to do more to support the current cohorts and ensure that the midwives of the future enter the profession unsaddled by the stress of credit card debt, loans debt and student loan debt.