Even Living Wage Foundation rate is not enough, say UNISON members

The real living wage is now £10.90 across the UK and £11.95 in London

This week the Living Wage Foundation brought forward a rise in its hourly rates, with a £1 increase to £10.90 across the UK and by 90p to £11.95 in London.

The Foundation’s real living wage rates, which were due to be published in April 2023, were brought forward in recognition of the sharp increase in living costs over the past year.

Unlike the government minimum wage (‘national living wage’) for over 23s, which is £9.50, the Foundation rate is independently calculated based on rising living costs. 

Though the new figures mark a 10.1% increase in real living wage since last year, UNISON does not believe this increase is sufficient to cover the cost-of-living crisis that many workers are facing. 

UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said: “Low-paid workers are crying out for help. The government must follow the Foundation’s lead and bring forward an increase to the national minimum wage without delay. Waiting until April would be foolish.

“But ministers should go even further. Ensuring everyone is paid at least £15 an hour would be a lifeline for millions barely coping with eye-watering household costs.

“Rather than boosting bankers’ bonuses, the government should concentrate on those feeling genuine financial pain.”

UNISON member Farhiya Nur is a SEN teaching assistant in Birmingham. She said: “People are already struggling on £10 an hour. At least £15 would help a little bit. With the amount of money we get, we pay our bills but don’t have anything left.”

Farhiya lives alone and, with the energy price increases, has calculated that her electricity bill will cost around £300 next month. 

“I’m dreading winter. I’m scared. I don’t have the hot water on. I just boil water in a kettle and shower with that kettle water. It’s so scary.”

Last week a UNISON report found that many teaching assistants like Farhiya are leaving the profession for work elsewhere. She said: “Working with SEN children is a very demanding job. The government doesn’t care about us, they’re not even thinking about us. I feel neglected.”

It’s not just school staff who are struggling. Dadirai, who does not wish to share her second name, is an overseas nurse at a hospital in the North West. She said: “It’s not enough. I came to the UK two years ago and even since then a lot of things have gone up in cost.

“When I left home from overseas, I hoped I was coming for greater pastures. I thought I’d made a good decision, that I’d be financially stable, develop myself professionally and be able to send money home. I won’t be able to fulfil those expectations. Right now, I’m living hand to mouth.”

UNISON member Claire Keenan is a social worker in Derbyshire who earns around £17 an hour, and doesn’t believe this is enough to survive on. She said: “Our wages haven’t gone up in so long, and they don’t reflect our qualifications or the level of risk that we’re having to manage on a daily basis. I wouldn’t be on much less if I went and worked in a supermarket, and I wouldn’t have to hold any risk.

“It’s scary. Electricity is going up, and there’s things I’m already having to stop doing. I’ve started to say to myself at the weekend ‘I can’t do that because I need to make sure I have enough petrol in my car for work’. It’s sad that the parts we have to cut back on most are the bits we do for ourselves, that keeps our wellbeing good.”