Pay cap forces public service staff into debt, says UNISON


Staff providing vital public services are being forced into debt, into cutting back on groceries, having to go without heating and even a daily meal, because of the government’s pay cap, according to research by UNISON.  

The findings released today (Sunday) will increase pressure on ministers to give all public service employees a proper pay rise ahead of the annual Trades Union Congress (TUC), which opens in Brighton later today

A survey* of nearly 11,000 employees including paramedics, teaching assistants, hospital porters and police staff across the UK highlights how years of wage restraint have left people struggling through to the next pay day. Many are even thinking of quitting for better-paid work as a result.

More than two in five (43 per cent) described their standard of living as worse than a year ago, and a quarter (26 per cent) said they owed more money than they did 12 months ago.

The increased cost of everyday items meant some (nine per cent) of those who responded are going without a regular daily meal or failing to keep their home warm (17 per cent), just so they can balance their household budgets.

Seven in ten (72 per cent) are spending more on council tax, more than two-thirds (68 per cent) have had to increase their outlay on food, and nearly three in five (59 per cent) have seen their gas and electricity bills rise.

A separate UK-wide survey** of more than 6,500 public service employees presents a worrying picture of the intolerable burden of austerity and the government’s continuing squeeze on wages, says UNISON. 

Debt and financial hardship were common experiences among those who responded to this poll, also carried out by UNISON this summer. Nearly a quarter (24 per cent) did not know how they would pay for an unexpected expense, for example their car breaking down or their boiler packing up, and a fifth (21 per cent) said they would simply have to go without.

Others (16 per cent) have resorted to using debt advice services or applied for payday loans (seven per cent), while two in five (41 per cent) say they can no longer afford to put money away each month.

More than three-quarters (77 per cent) have cut back on food shopping in the last year in order to make their wages stretch further, and one in ten (11 per cent) have missed meals to feed their children.

A small but worrying number (110) of people said they were so desperate they were turning to food banks for help, says UNISON.

Commenting on both pieces of research, UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “Nurses, social workers, school meals staff and other public service employees have endured seven long years of wage freezes and caps on their pay.

“The government has inflicted untold damage on the lives of hard-working people and their families, who are weary from the struggle of having to make ends meet every month.

“Ministers have been quick to praise the tireless dedication of people including paramedics and nurses, yet insist there’s not enough money in the pot to give everyone a decent pay rise.

“But enough is enough. The pay cap must end, not this Autumn or next year, but now. The government cannot pick and choose who should benefit. Everyone working in the NHS, schools and higher education, local government and the police service is long overdue a rise.”                                     

Notes for editors:
* A total of 10,945 people in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland took part in the survey with the majority working in local government (48 per cent), health care services (16 per cent) and higher education (11 per cent).  
** A total of 6,534 people in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland took part in the survey, with the majority working in local government (32 per cent), the NHS (29 per cent) and schools (13 per cent).
– Public sector staff pay rises are currently capped at one per cent a year until 2019.
– The UK inflation rate was 2.6 per cent in July, and the Retail Prices Index (RPI) measure of inflation 3.6 per cent.
– Public sector pay will be the subject of a UNISON pre-TUC press conference on Sunday lunchtime. This will take place at 1.15pm in the Regent Room at the Grand.
– Later, at 2pm, Dave Prentis and public service employees (some in uniform) will take part in a stunt on Brighton seafront involving a ‘rigged’ slot machine. When they pull the lever, the rotating display stops on ‘one per cent you lose.’
– Dave Prentis will also be leading the Congress debate on public sector pay, which takes place on mid afternoon on Monday.

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