The record rise in fuel prices could trigger a mass exodus of staff who rely on their vehicles for work, unions and drivers have warned.
The price of a liter of unleaded petrol hit 182.31p on Thursday, meaning the cost of filling an average family car hit £100 for the first time. Some employees who have to drive for work spend up to £350 a week on fuel and others ‘pay to go to work’.
The GMB union warned the rise had “crushed” its members and said staff shortages in the transport and health sectors “will only get worse as prices continue to rise”.
An NHS community worker told the Observer that the rise in the price of fuel had exceeded the reimbursement they had been given for gas costs, so staff were now paying not only to get to work, but also to travel to patients’ homes to do their work.
Tiffany, another community health worker, said fuel now made up the biggest part of her expenses each month – almost £250 – of which just £171 was reimbursed by the NHS.
She said rising costs, coupled with the fact that NHS fuel reimbursement came at the end of the month, meant she had to borrow money from her partner.
“My whole team is exhausted,” she said. “Morale has been at its worst for about 10 years. To be honest with you, I feel worse now than I did during Covid. I could work in a cash desk at Aldi and get paid more.
England’s NHS waiting list reached a record 6.4million last month. The overall staff shortage in the service has reached around 110,000 people.
The Observer also spoke to taxi and private hire drivers who had been forced to take second jobs or work six days a week to meet fuel costs.
“There are a lot of people who need help, and it’s not coming,” said Paul Sweeney, a London taxi driver who is losing £300 a month due to rising fuel costs, despite driving of a hybrid electric vehicle. “A lot of people haven’t come back into business since Covid because of what’s going on. Where will we be in five years if this continues?
According to the latest figures, the shortage of Uber drivers and black cabs in London is around 10,000 after a mass exodus during Covid which drivers say has continued to worsen.
Couriers and other van drivers have also been hit hard. Speaking to BBC Radio 5 live on Friday, one said: ‘It got to the point where I made the decision to look for another job…I’ve been watching people who have been doing this for 16 years saying, ‘That’s it, this is my last day’. When I filled up the other day it was £108 and I could have cried because I know how much work I’m going to have to do now before I make any money.
The inflation rate in the UK hit a 40-year high of 9% in April. The Bank of England expects it to reach 10% before the end of the year. In October, the energy price cap is expected to rise by 42% from £1,971 to over £2,801, a further increase from the £700 rise recorded in April.
‘GMB members, like everyone else, are being crushed by soaring energy bills, steep rises in food and fuel prices to almost £2 a litre,’ said the general secretary of GMB, Gary Smith.
“Record petrol prices now mean NHS community staff, home carers, taxi drivers and others who are on the road for work are literally paying to go to work. It can’t be true.
“It’s no wonder we’re seeing massive staff shortages in many of these industries – and it’s only going to get worse as prices continue to rise.”
Christina McAnea, general secretary of Unison, warned on Friday that some of the union’s members were likely to go on strike in the coming months due to rising costs.
“We don’t want to strike low-paid workers,” she said. “But if there is no alternative, what else can you do? »
Uber driver Nader Awaad said he was now spending £350 a week on fuel and had to take on other jobs to try to make ends meet.
He said rising fuel prices, along with alleged changes to the share of each tariff given to drivers, meant he could only afford to accept 8% of the rides offered to him on the application. The other 92% were too short a distance for him to make money.
As a result, he said he now had to take on a second job picking up and dropping off at the airport, which required him to work from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.
“Most drivers are in the same boat. Uber doesn’t want its prices to reflect rising costs because they want to maintain the idea that they are cheap and affordable,” he said. “How can you work for a company if you [have to] reject more jobs than you accept? »
Previously, Awaad, who is an IWGB union organizer, paid just £200 a week to put fuel in his Mercedes minivan.
“That’s money I’m losing out of my overall income,” he said. “It’s very difficult right now. [to make ends meet]. We have to keep working, we have to keep earning, we have to keep fighting.
“We’re in this situation where we just can’t afford to continue driving to do our jobs for free,” said vickyan NHS community maternity support worker.
For her job, Vicki visits patients in their homes, often driving up to 50 minutes between visits.
While the NHS offers a fuel reimbursement of 20 pence per mile after the first 3,500 kilometres, fuel now costs 22 pence per mile based on the car’s average fuel consumption, meaning Vicki and her colleagues have to pay to do their job.
“I spend more time in the car than I could spend in people’s homes on some days,” she said, adding that she and her co-workers regularly drive more than 10,000 miles a year for work. “We are understaffed, so we all have to drive extra miles. We drive 45-50 minutes for a visit. Especially since we are in a rural area.
Vicki added that even in normal years the grant change would ‘cripple’ NHS community support staff, but rising fuel prices had left her and her colleagues on edge.
“You feel like you’re staring at your dashboard and fuel gauge as you drive, trying to drive the best mileage,” she said. “You feel like you’re letting your co-workers down when they ask you to go somewhere and [you] I have to say ‘I’m at 20 pence a mile, and it’s 45 minutes, can anyone else go?’
“I feel like we’ve been forgotten,” she added. “There was the clap for a key worker, but now people don’t think about key workers struggling to put £100 a week worth of fuel in the car.”