Negotiating Equality in Local Government in a Climate of Ever Harsher Cuts

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2016 Local Government Service Group Conference
25 February 2016

Conference is concerned that hard won equality gains in local government are at risk as local government bears the brunt of the harshest public sector budget cuts to date.

Conference notes that local government used to be an equality trail-blazer in terms and conditions for staff and also in the quality, accessibility and inclusivity of local government service delivery. This, coupled with a strong public service ethos, has contributed over the years to high numbers of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) workers, along with other equality groups, working within local government services. They are now disproportionately losing work because of local government redundancies.

Conference further notes the impact on remaining local government staff, who are expected to take on heavier workloads over an extended period of time, due to the rise in pensionable age. As austerity impacts negatively on service users, their need for local government services increases just as these services are being cut back. The combination of more work, more acute need from service users, fewer colleagues, later retirement and fear of redundancy has an inevitable impact on the mental health of local government workers. The resulting stress can trigger existing mental health conditions and create new ones.

Even without the impact of austerity, people vulnerable to discrimination face worse levels of mental health. Research published by Manchester Business School in 2014 found significantly higher levels of poor mental health amongst lesbian, gay and bisexual workers than non-LGB workers. The highest levels were amongst lesbian and bisexual workers. Research into transgender workers’ experiences has also found even stronger correlations.

Conference welcomes recognition that mental health is a serious workplace issue for local government staff and believes that urgent steps are needed to challenge the stigmatising of mental health issues.

There is still a long way to go on this and other equality issues, with local government workers facing the following challenges:

1)Specialist local government equality teams are early victims to cuts, with equality merely an add-on to other job descriptions;

2)Workforce training is drastically reduced, particularly in the area of equality and diversity, with increasing reliance on online training;

3)Capability procedures are being inappropriately used for workers ‘not keeping up’ with increased workloads;

4)Occupational health services may be of poor quality and/or misused to get rid of workers;

5)Specialist services which complemented mainstream local government services, such as specialist LGBT youth, LGBT mental health support or LGBT public health services, are disappearing fast.

We must live up to our proud history and negotiate for LGBT equality to be included in all local government policies, practices and agreements. Conference welcomes the range of UNISON LGBT equality bargaining resources available to support this.

Conference therefore calls on the local government service group executive, in liaison with the national LGBT committee, to keep LGBT equality centre stage in bargaining and:

a)Seek to ensure that workforce health and wellbeing is on the bargaining agenda with all local government employers;

b)Urge employers to acknowledge the impact of discrimination on mental health and include a strong equality dimension in mental health initiatives and strategies;

c)Call on employers to acknowledge the importance of specialist support services, such as LGBT support services, and publicise them to staff, where these exist;

d)Circulate guidance to branches, including advice on good practice in occupational health services and capability procedures;

e)Signpost information and support on LGBT mental health to local government branches, stewards, equality co-ordinators and LGBT officers;

f)Continue to highlight the devastating impact of cuts on local government workers and services.