Fife student nurse left with £8 a week to live off due to benefits system

A Fife MP has written to the UK Government to urge them to meet to discuss the case of a local constituent let down by the benefits system.

As a second year student nurse, Lara Mcdonald accepted a fixed term contract to help the NHS during the pandemic which ran until August 2020, which meant a temporary pause to her existing benefits.

At the end of the contract, Ms Mcdonald reapplied for her benefits only to discover that as she was previously a recipient of what are known as ‘legacy benefits’ – those that are no longer open for application - she would instead have to apply for Universal Credit, for which she found herself to be ineligible.

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As a result, she now lives off her nursing bursary and PIP, which after rent and bills leaves her with an estimated £8 a week to live on.

She is now facing the prospect of potentially having to move back to her mother’s house – even though independent living had greatly helped her health in the first instance.

Lara said: “In April of this year I was offered a fixed term contract as a student nurse to help the NHS.

“It was fantastic to be recognised as having skills that were needed, and like my classmates, I felt it necessary to take this offer.

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“However, as I understood it this meant temporarily stopping my benefits due to having a job for five months. I chose to prioritise my education and make a contribution to the NHS during the pandemic.

“However, since I started claiming benefits the system has changed. Housing benefit no longer exists, neither does the version of ESA I received. I’ve been told I need to apply for Universal Credit which isn’t actually available to students.

“I am completely deflated by the situation I’ve been left in by the benefits system. I thought I was doing the right thing but now living off my nursing bursary and PIP means that after I pay my rent and bills, I have just £8 a week to live off.

“It is a kick in the teeth that had I declined the placement, none of my benefits would have been affected. I am dedicated to my studies and proud of the contribution I made during the pandemic, I just never thought that pursuing this career would leave me without a home.”

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MP Wendy Chamberlain said: “I think it is unacceptable that someone who has taken the brave decision to work on the frontline in the NHS during the pandemic has effectively been financially penalised as a result.

“I fear that there must be countless more people who have made a similar decision to Lara and are being penalised as a result.

“We must ask what kind of society claps for our carers and then leaves them with barely enough to survive on.

“The minister indicated to me that I should write to them for a meeting when I pressed the matter in the chamber, and I look forward to making Lara’s case as soon as possible.”