Northern Ireland

'The mood is the worst it has ever been'

Margaret McKee
Image caption Margaret McKee has been a catering assistant for 31 years

Margaret McKee is 53-years-old and has been working in the Royal Victoria Hospital as a catering assistant for 31 years.

Fearing what the future might hold, she is waiting for news of where the spending cuts will fall and how they might affect her job.

"I work in the kitchen of the children's hospital at the RVH, cleaning after the cooks and helping in the preparation of the food.

"I work from 7 until 3 one day, then 9 to 5 the next, then back to 7 to 3 and so on for a total of 37 and a half hours a week.

"I also work two weekends out of three and my salary is £7.30 an hour.

"That is the top of my salary band, which is band one."

Cycles

After three decades working in the same kitchen, Margaret has been through quite a few economic cycles.

There have been times when there was enough money around and staff seemed fairly content and other times when things became a lot more tight and the mood changed.

The current uncertainty worries her both from a personal perspective and from a professional point of view.

She says that her payrise last year was about £6.30 a week.

"It is very difficult to manage now. The price of everything has been going up - food, clothes, the cost of public transport and to be honest with you, the wages are not going up like enough to cover it.

"Basically it means when you go for groceries, you have to put one thing less in your basket.

"Instead of buying clothes you make what you have last a wee bit longer."

Frustration

Margaret has four children but only one still lives at home with her and her husband.

Nevertheless, she still feels a responsibility to help out her children, who now have children of their own, as much as she can.

Overall, her circumstances mean that she does not want or need the stress of wondering whether she will still have a job in a year's time.

In the children's hospital at the Royal, the food is still cooked fresh daily. But in other parts, it is pre-made elsewhere before being heated up - a cheaper option.

Margaret, who has known thousands of fellow employees over the years, is better placed than most to gauge the mood at the moment.

"It is the worst it has ever been in the time I have been there. It is not only people like me but the nurses and the doctors you speak to as well.

"You can really feel the frustration about the ways things are going - that they are going to get a lot worse before they get any better."