Tomorrow, UNISON’s local government members in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will be going on strike, joining with other public sector workers in their effort to secure a decent pay rise. In Scotland, local government workers have voted for industrial action by two to one in a consultative ballot and will be considering the next stage of their own pay campaign later this month.
Matt Sykes, at the Touchstone blog sets out why public service workers are taking action. He argues that it’s a wider manifestation of the anger and frustration felt by public sector workers over pay and living standards. Industrial action is the inevitable consequence when you have a government that makes announcements over pay, rather than engage in a meaningful dialogue. The declaration that pay restraint will continue until 2018 is another example of this.
UNISON’s Heather Wakefield sets out the local government case at the Public Finance blog with a damning set of statistics on pay and the long-term impact on pensions. Again, there have been no real talks and the employers have refused to join the trade unions in independent arbitration.
The TUC has published figures that show how the UK government has frozen or limited pay increases to well below the cost of living. This has left local government and other public service workers on average £2,245 worse off in real terms since this government came into office.
Concern about the standard of living stretches into retirement. Research published by Aviva indicates that a fifth of people in Britain believe they will have to “work until they drop” because they cannot afford to retire. Money worries mean millions of over-40s are expecting to carry on working until they cannot physically continue. Others are concerned about paying their day-to-day bills without the regular income from employment coming in.
An important element of current pay claims is the Living Wage. The final report of the independent Living Wage Commission, chaired by the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu says that the number of people on low pay in the UK can be slashed by over 1 million by 2020. The Commission warns that, if the government does not support the voluntary extension of coverage of the Living Wage, some working families will continue to rely on emergency measures, such as food banks and unsustainable debt, to get by. Currently 5.2 million people earn less than the Living Wage in the UK and the majority of people in poverty are now in working households.
This message is reinforced in the largest study of poverty ever conducted in the UK. The Poverty and Social Exclusion in the UK (PSE) project details how, over the last 30 years, the percentage of households living below society’s minimum standard of living has increased from 14% to 33% – despite the fact that the economy has doubled in size over the same period. These findings seriously undercut the UK government’s claim to be lifting people out of poverty through work. Cuts to welfare benefits add to the low pay misery.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s annual Minimum Income Standard report looks at how much people have to earn taking into account family circumstances, the cost of essentials and changes to benefits. This shows that a lone parent with one child now needs to earn more than £27,100, up from £12,000 in 2008. A couple with two children need to earn more than £20,200 each, compared to £13,900 each in 2008. Single working-age people must now earn more than £16,200, up from £13,500 in 2008.
Public service workers are at the front line of the attack on wages, while this government awards handouts to the super rich. Tomorrow is just the start of a fight back to keep workers out of poverty.