Hands up: I'm backing #J10. Photo: EPSU
#J10: The need to take action against poverty pay in public services
The Government has had local government pay and conditions squarely in its sights since 2010. A pay freeze in 2010, 2011 and 2012 and a punitive 1% pay cap ever since has sent the pay packets of local government and school workers plummeting back to the level of the 1990s. This year’s pay offer would result in a cumulative real-term cut of almost 20%. We are now in a position where an estimated 470,000 local government and school workers are paid less than the Living Wage, and one million earn less than the Coalition’s low-pay threshold of £21,000. That’s £6000 less than average UK earnings.
On top of this drastic decline in basic pay, pay-related cuts at local level are now widespread. Employers have been waging all-out war for several years on unsocial hours payments, hours of work, annual leave, sick pay and even maternity pay. Car allowances have been frozen or cut in most councils over the past three years, leaving many social workers, planners and homecare workers to subsidise their employers in order to do their jobs.
UNISON believes that all local government and school workers (77% of which are women) deserve to be paid at least the Living Wage. We are asking the Local Government Association for a £1.20 an hour minimum increase for all. This would bring the bottom rate of pay in local government to the level of the Living Wage, and help restore some of the pay lost across the whole workforce.
Councils have £19bn sitting in their coffers. We are told that large reserves are needed for investment, but some of this should surely be for investment in staff? Saving for a rainy day is always wise, but not at the expense of what keeps you motoring – your staff. It’s high time that employers recognised that it’s pouring outside. Squirreling away reserves at the expense of rewarding hard working staff is a completely false economy.
A report last year by the New Policy Institute revealed that more than half the cost of meeting UNISON’s £1.20 pay claim for local government and school support workers would be offset by workers paying higher tax and national insurance contributions and receiving less in tax credits and benefits. This is supported by the most recent figures from the House of Commons Library. They show that the number of people claiming in-work benefits has rocketed by almost 60% under the Coalition. This will have cost the taxpayer £5bn by the general election.
School and council workers are tired of the Government treating them like they are at the bottom of the pile. They are tired of going that extra mile for worse than nothing. In the wake of Coalition cuts and almost 500,000 job losses in councils alone, they continue to educate and support children in schools, maintain crucial local services, keep our communities clean and safe places to live and protect the homeless and vulnerable.
Why then do these workers get the lowest basic pay rates, the worst holiday, sick pay and parental rights? We all know that the coalition has singled out local government for the harshest cuts and apparent demolition. However, the decline in their circumstances has been longer-term – at least since 1997. The three-year pay freeze has simply turned a bad situation into a disastrous one for our members. Many are in debt and rely on foodbanks, family handouts and payday loans to survive.
It’s time for the Local Government Association and employers to recognise that their staff are their most precious asset. Local government workers have shown their commitment to keeping local services going against all odds, and we now need a commitment from the Government and the employers to finally make a decent pay offer.
Politicians from all sides are calling for action to end low pay and introduce the Living Wage. If they are serious, they should put their own house in order and make sure that one million local government and school support workers are lifted out of poverty and given the £1.20 an hour increase we are calling for.