Challenging Growing Inequality

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2015 National Delegate Conference
24 February 2015
Carried as Amended

For the past 30 years the economic philosophy has been that wealth would ‘trickle down’ to working people, and it has also been argued that austerity was necessary to build a future for subsequent generations and lift living standards.

The reality has been that ordinary people have not seen the quality jobs and higher living standards that were assured would follow, and working people have watched wages stagnate while big business profits soar. There is clearly growing inequality in society, which has been displayed by a recent Oxfam report that states by 2016 the top 1% will possess more than 50% of the world’s wealth.

UNISON need to be pushing the debate with politicians and economists to place inequality at the forefront of future discussions and economic policies. Economic and productivity structural reforms cannot ignore the social impact of inequality. Our economic and social strategy must centre on an inclusive agenda where the benefits of growth flow through to the wider community in the form of jobs, decent incomes, and rising living standards.

Too many in society have an existence that comprises of loan sharks, zero hours contracts, food banks and poverty. Many people are working multiple jobs on minimum wages and suffering in-work poverty, with few opportunities of improving employment chances. Dependent on in-work benefits, these people are seeing themselves being demonised as scroungers by the media. In addition, in-work poverty and income inequality are major contributors to health inequality.

The world of work has changed significantly and many workers are fearful of their employment prospects. George Osborne lauded that new jobs were being created and unemployment was falling, yet these are poor quality, precarious jobs with little long-term prospects. The latest annual report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation highlighted that insecure, low-paid jobs are leaving record numbers of working families in poverty, with two-thirds of people who found work in the past year taking jobs for less than the Living Wage.

The growing sense of insecurity is having a profound effect on individuals. In the UK last year 50 million prescriptions were issued for antidepressants, and more young men died from suicide than any other cause. This is a sad reflection on the state of society, and a tragedy for the individuals concerned.

UNISON is proud that it has equality at the heart of the union.The commitment to self organisation has built inclusivity and developed an equality agenda which has benefitted all members.

Inequality is not a fringe issue, politicians and governments need to acknowledge and accept that they have to grasp this as a priority. UNISON should be leading the debate on what kind of a society the country needs, with a value base that is linked to sustainable and equitable growth. Furthermore, UNISON’s campaigning work on the Living Wage and Ethical Care Charter needs to continue to strength and argue the case for minimum standards that have social benefit.

Ethics, which appears to be absent from the politics of austerity, should be at the centre, helping to truly enable social mobility and economic growth in the 21st century. The Greek election results have shown that there is rising condemnation of austerity measures, and grassroots opposition is permeating throughout Europe, including in Italy and Spain. There is growing opposition to the punishment imposed by a remote elite on working people.

The Government need to acknowledge and accept that inequality is not a fringe issue. It is essential that politicians recognise that nurses, builders, teachers, labourers, hairdressers, shop assistants and service sector workers are as much generators of growth as bankers, investors, businesses and multinational companies. There needs to be a genuine discussion about fair distribution of wealth that allows people to live in dignity.

Conference calls on UNISON to:

1)Engage with politicians, academics and economists at all levels to debate structural and economic reforms that tackle growing inequality and rebalance the economy to deliver real social mobility and a fair distribution of wealth;

2)Campaign for decent living standards, guaranteed through improved measures to support the unemployed (especially those who are young), prevent homelessness, and lift people out of poverty;

3)Continue to campaign to establish the Living Wage as the National Minimum Wage;

4)Continue to campaign for local authorities to sign-up to the Ethical Care Charter.