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A pay rise out of poverty

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By Helga Pile, Unison’s national officer for social care


Social care staff are struggling to make ends meet right now; frozen pay, government cuts and rising inflation have seen to that. This is why our 2012-13 claim to the National Joint Council (NJC) for Local Government Services in England, Wales and Northern Ireland must be taken on board. We need to break through this damaging pay freeze and pull social care staff out of poverty. 


The government’s claims that we are all in this together are ludicrous. The figures speak for themselves. It is a kick in the teeth to hear that the pay of directors in the UK’s top businesses has risen by about 50% in the past year alone. Incomes Data Services has said the average pay for a director of a FTSE 100 company has risen to just short of £2.7m. 


For low-paid local government workers it couldn’t be more different. By next April, social care staff will have suffered two years of frozen pay. In the face of rising inflation this has in effect led to workers suffering an 11.6% pay cut. The lowest paid have been hit the hardest, as local government employers have failed to honour the government’s promised £250 to those earning below £21,000. 


More than four in 10 social care support workers earn below £21,000 – the government’s definition of low pay in the public sector. While other low paid public service workers have had this flat-rate increase, yet again these workers go without. 


At the same time that workers have had their pay frozen, they are suffering cuts to jobs and services and their terms and conditions are under attack at local level. 


Findings of a recent survey by Unison revealed that social care staff are struggling to cope with the current pressures, as employers are faced with budget cuts, social worker shortages, and the rising demand among children and vulnerable adults. On top of this, government ministers plan to change staff pensions, to make them pay more, work longer, for less. 


Women are disproportionately bearing the brunt across the whole public sector, especially as so many don’t just work in, but also rely more on these vital services. This is an unparalleled assault on those who are working harder, for less, to maintain vital community services.


The evidence in our pay claim shines a spotlight on poverty pay in local government and the struggle council workers are facing to make ends meet – workers who are also under huge pressure to maintain a quality service in the face of the cuts.


f the yawning wages gap fails to close, whole families will be pushed further into poverty. We need a substantial pay increase to redress the balance, put some money into pockets and help kick-start the economy.


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