Pay body rules that equality must be priority

“All animals are equal but some animals are more equal
than others,” said George Orwell in Animal Farm – and never a
truer word was spoken when it comes to social care,
writes Natalie Valios.

According to Unison, one of the key reasons that the local
government workforce is so poorly paid is because local government
has failed to take equality issues seriously. This emerged as one
of the main themes in the Local Government Pay Commission’s

The National Joint Council, made up of the Employers
Organisation and trade unions Unison, the T&G and GMB, set up
the Local Government Pay Commission to look into pay and related
issues following last year’s first national strike of local
government workers since 1989. The industrial action was in
response to a 3 per cent pay rise instead of the 6 per cent claim
that had been put forward.

But low pay was sidelined in favour of equality in the
commission’s report. Home care and residential care form two
huge areas of part-time work, and these posts are traditionally
overwhelmingly dominated by female staff and very poorly paid. The
commission said that equality in local government employment
“is a necessity not an option”, and should be treated
as a policy priority.

Unison’s head of local government Heather Wakefield said:
“If local authorities take the report seriously it’s a
wake up call to get to grips with that.”

This will be a challenge, said Rob Pinkham, deputy executive
director of the Employers’ Organisation. “The
commission is saying we could do more about equal pay and close the
gender gap. The truth of the matter is it is closing, but we need
to do it more quickly and more completely.

“Our problem isn’t that we pay women and men
unequally for doing the same work. Our problem is that more women
are in low paid occupation than men, so we have to break down
occupational segregation,” he added.

One of the primary reasons for women taking part-time or lower
paid jobs is that they allow them the flexibility to juggle work
with motherhood, but the end result is that they can only progress
so far up the career ladder. If the solution to inequality is to
move more women into higher paid occupations, then flexibility will
have to cut across the board far more. “The commission is
asking whether we can extend some of these flexibilities up the
structure,” said Pinkham. “It’s difficult, but I
think it’s ‘doable’.”

Minimum rate rejected

Low pay and inequality are naturally interlinked, but the
commission was clear that the two must remain separate issues:
“Local government contains a number of job categories which
are generally low paid throughout the wider economy. It is
important to untangle low pay of this nature from issues of pay

Perhaps part of the problem lies with the fact that there is no
agreed definition of what constitutes low pay. And while the unions
urged a minimum hourly rate of £6.50 for public sector
workers, this was rejected by the commission which said that while
it agreed that there were recruitment hotspots for occupations at
the lower end of the pay scale, it did not believe this was
pervasive enough to justify a general uprating of the minimum rate
of pay.

Unison was “disappointed but not despondent”, said
Wakefield. “We don’t think they have taken our evidence
on low pay as seriously as we would have liked. It’s crazy
that local authorities are paying such low wages that tax payers
are subsidising it. A large proportion of people wouldn’t
have to supplement their income with state benefits if the minimum
wage was raised.”

And Bill McKitterick, chairperson of the Association of
Directors of Social Services’ human resources and training
committee, said: “There’s an issue to ensure that
social care is recognised as an area where we can’t afford in
terms of service quality to always be paying the

Employers, on the other hand, welcomed the news. “Benefits
are often calculated on family incomes and not just the
individual’s and that is not something that employers can
take into account,” said Pinkham. “Distribution of
income is not a matter for employers, but for the state. Employers
can only react to labour markets.”

Pay for unsocial hours 

Tied up with the wranglings over pay is the employers wish for a
rethinking on premium payments for those who work unsocial hours.
Employers can’t see why they should have to pay more money
for people working evenings and weekends if that’s what they
want to do: “People want to work all sorts of patterns of
hours, some of which fit in well with delivering services, and it
doesn’t make sense to pay a premium for them to work the
hours they want to,” said Pinkham.

Employers will be pleased then that the commission recommends
moving towards a set of national principles for remunerating
certain working arrangements in the national agreement, rather than
stating the rate at which specified working times should be

Graduate development

Another key theme to come out of the report was improving staff
training and development, and the commission also encouraged local
authorities to introduce or extend their own graduate development

“The commission agrees with us that training for frontline
workers is poor and that investment in training, and better
training opportunities have to be part of the future
picture,” said Wakefield.

This is another challenge for employers, said Pinkham. “I
can’t say how we would do this. The message is that we need
to create skills pathways so that employees at the front line can
acquire skills.

He said: “Unions want to simply raise wages at the bottom
end, but we will price ourselves out of the marketplace. We need to
allow them to acquire skills and move into better jobs. It will
cost money but hopefully we will get the money from central

Gap between health and social care

The commission raised the point that the earnings gap between
local government workers and competitors for the same skills, such
as health professionals, has been widening. This perceived
disparity in pay and rewards between social care and NHS staff is
causing discontent, particularly where they are working together,
for example in community care settings.

“We will need to see what ‘Agenda for Change’ [the new pay
and grading system for health] brings about, and then we must seek
to ensure that people doing similar jobs within the public sector
aren’t on widely differing pay and reward packages,”
said Wakefield.

This isn’t as straightforward as it might appear, as
differences in weekly working hours and holidays makes it a more
complicated matter than just comparing pay rates.

Social workers and other public sector staff are often motivated
by the desire to “make a difference”, the commission
said, adding “it is important that it is not seen as
legitimising lower pay”. But by not raising the minimum wage,
this may be exactly how employees are left feeling.

of the Local Government Pay Commission

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