Blog: Worth more than a clap

UNISON’s head of local government and schools says something has changed in our fight for a fair pay rise

Portrait of Jon Richards

What is your health worth? How about your safety? Or your community? How much do green spaces and clean streets matter to you? A happy childhood? Someone to look after you when you’re old?

It’s not an exaggeration to say that council and school workers are instrumental to so many things that we hold dear. COVID-19 has reminded us all how important our key workers are.

And they have just been offered a 2.75% pay rise in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

You might think that’s better than nothing. But local authority funding has been halved since 2010, which has left many council and school workers with 20% less pay in real terms than 2010.

That’s why trade unions asked for a significant pay rise. Many of our key workers are on low pay. Many have seen their pay fall far behind what is warranted. Even the employers agree. Like us, they have urged central government to find new money for a pay rise: 2.75% is not fair.

The government has reverted to its tried and tested pat on the back. Claps all round? No problem. A badge? Sounds good. But the age of austerity’s contempt for, and misunderstanding of, local authorities seems hard for the government to let go.

Our members are too often seen as a bloated bureaucracy, ripe for cuts. It has served government agenda well to spin that line.

There is a fundamental misunderstanding of what councils are and what their staff do. Refuse collectors, care assistants, school cleaners, social workers, cemetery staff, trading standards officers, youth workers  – and many more – are vital. They deliver essential services. They are the glue that holds our communities together.

But a global pandemic has happened and changed everything. Walk down any street in the UK and windows are filled with rainbow posters, thanking key workers. People know who their heroes are. And I’m pretty confident that people think they’re worth more than a pat on the back.

Help us to make the government listen. Support the campaign for a decent, fair pay rise for all our key workers in councils and schools.

Central government must urgently increase funding for local authorities.

Find out more about the campaign and how you can help

Jon Richards

national secretary for local government and schools