Rental costs price public service staff out of housing, says UNISON

High rental costs mean many public service employees in England are spending more than a third of their wages on rent, according to research published by UNISON

High rental costs mean many public service employees in England are spending more than a third of their wages on rent, according to research published today (Tuesday) by UNISON.

Hospital porters are struggling the most, with rents effectively unaffordable for them in all nine English regions. The most expensive areas for porters are London, the South East and the East of England where housing costs swallow up over half their take home pay.

Teaching assistants do not fare much better – in half a dozen English regions, rental costs are more than a third of their monthly wage. The same is true for refuse drivers in five regions, and for nurses and police community support officers (PCSOs) in four.

The findings are based on the average private rent for a one bedroom property in each local authority area across England, compared with the pay for some public sector jobs*.

Unsurprisingly, London is the most expensive region for public service workers to rent. For example, the average rent in Kensington and Chelsea is £2,141 per month, more than one and a half times the pay of porters after tax and national insurance, making it impossible for them to live there.

In London, a teaching assistant would have to spend 78% of their monthly take home salary on a one bedroom property, a refuse driver 74%, a nurse 71% and a PCSO 70%.

Oxford, and Epsom and Ewell are the most expensive areas in the South East, where 84% of an NHS porter’s salary would go on rent, 70% of a teaching assistant’s, 67% of a refuse driver’s, 63% of a nurse’s and 61% of a PCSO’s. In 72 out of the 74 local authority areas in the region, a teaching assistant would have to pay more than a third of their wages in rent.

The third most expensive region is the East of England. An NHS porter living in Cambridge can expect to spend 85% of their salary on rent, a teaching assistant 71%, a refuse driver 68%, a nurse 64% and a PCSO 61%. In 47 out of the 52 local authority areas in the East of England, a teaching assistant would have to spend more than a third of their wages on rent.

UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “Sky high rents mean public sector staff have less money to spend on food, clothes and getting to work.

“The housing crisis is affecting people up and down the country. Employees are being forced to work further away from where they do their jobs, and young people cannot afford to move out of the family home.

“There needs to be less talk and more action by the government on housing.”

Notes to editors:

– * The data is based on the starting salaries of a band 2 NHS porter, a band 5 nurse, a refuse driver on local authority scale point 21 and a special needs teaching assistant on scale point 19. For the PCSO it is the typical starting rate plus shift allowances. London salary figures are based on the NHS high cost area supplement for inner London, the inner London weighting and fringe area allowance for local government jobs, and the PCSO (including shift and location allowances) pay rates as published on the Metropolitan Police website.

– A new NHS pay deal has just been accepted by health workers and is due to be ratified at a meeting of the NHS staff council later this month. NHS pay figures (porter and nurse) in this report are based on current salaries, not on the amount they will get in their summer pay packets.

– Spending more than a third of take home salary on housing is used as a benchmark by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in monitoring poverty, and by the Royal Town Planning Institute for measuring housing affordability.

– The average rental costs come from the Valuation Office Agency’s Private Rental Market Statistics (September 2017)

– The full UNISON housing report is available here.

Case studies:

Karen is a support worker for adults with learning disabilities and lives in Norfolk. She is 45 and rents a small house, where she lives with her grown-up son who has Asperger’s. She works 38 hours a week (plus two sleep-in shifts) and her take home pay is £1,200-1,400 per month. She spends around half her pay on rent, which is £700 per month (plus bills). She struggles to make ends meet and has no hope of buying her own place. She has no money for extras like holidays.

Elliot is a 24-year-old emergency medical dispatcher (999 call operator) living in Greater London. He is living at home with his mum and has no prospect of buying his own place. He is struggling to get the money together to move out and rent because he has a £50,000 student loan.

Megan is a 30-year-old domestic abuse support worker and lives in Bristol. She has been renting for 10 years and lives with her partner who is a mental health support worker. Her take home pay is around £1,400 per month and her share of the rent is £800 (plus bills). She wants to start a family but doesn’t think this is feasible because she struggling to make ends meet.

– This week is UNISON’s national conference which runs for four days from Tuesday (19 June); the local government conference (Sunday 17 to Monday 18 June); water, environment and transport (Sunday 17 to Monday 18 June); and energy (Monday 18 June). All conferences take place in Brighton at the Brighton Centre.

Media contacts:

Clare Santry T: 0207 121 5546 M: 07944 191479 E:

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