Council social care workers have seen their headline pay rates fall by 13% in real terms over the past three years due to a combination of wage freezes and rising inflation.
Council staff in England, Wales and Northern Ireland were last awarded an annual pay rise in April 2009 and, in the subsequent three years, prices have risen by 13%, depressing their earning power by the same amount, said a report today by Unison and the New Policy Institute.
The report has been released on the eve of talks between unions and local government employers about the national pay award for 2012-13. Employers are expected to seek to impose a third consecutive pay freeze, in line with the government’s policy of keeping wages stable across the public sector in 2012-13 and in reflection of Whitehall cuts to councils.
However, Unison’s head of local government, Heather Wakefield, said: “This unprecedented squeeze cannot continue – low paid families have suffered enough. The local government employers must come forward with a decent offer on pay this year.”
The report has used the retail prices index measure of inflation, which includes housing costs, rather than the government’s preferred consumer prices index indicator, which is typically lower.
It also refers to the headline rate of pay for staff in those councils – the majority – that participate in national pay bargaining, and excludes the impact of pay progression – staff moving up in their pay band on grounds of performance or experience – and other factors that affect remuneration, such as car allowances.
However, the report warned that councils had made cuts in allowances and other benefits such as unsocial hours payments.
Worse is due to come for council staff, as the government wants public sector pay rises to be capped at 1% per year from 2013-15.
But today’s report pointed out that council staff were relatively worse off compared with public sector counterparts. The median wage for public sector as a whole was £10 an hour for part-time staff in 2010, compared with £8 an hour for part-time staff in councils.
“Local government workers are portrayed as part of a pampered public sector,” said report co-author Dr Peter Kenway, of the New Policy Institute. “With two thirds of them in manual or clerical jobs, doing important and sometimes essential jobs, this report shows what a distortion that picture is.”
At the time, a spokesperson for the Local Government Association, on behalf of employers, said: “Elected members will consider the details of the claim and respond based on what is affordable for councils, council taxpayers and the users of vital public services.”