Make the living wage the minimum wage in UK schools

UNISON, the public sector union, is calling for the living wage to become the minimum rate of pay for all workers in UK schools.

The union, which represents school support staff including catering workers, teaching assistants, caretakers, school administrators and cleaners, is calling for the bottom rate of pay to be raised, to make sure that every school worker can live in dignity and earn enough money to provide for their family.

Of the 500,000 plus schools support staff in the UK, thousands earn on or around the minimum wage, currently set at £6.19. The living wage is £8.55 per hour in London and £7.45 in the rest of the UK. The plan would be a massive boost to women who make up the overwhelming majority of the school support workforce.

All school support workers have been hit hard by a three-year pay freeze as inflation has risen. The situation is so dire that 73% of UNISON members now report that they are being forced to cut back on spending on food*. One in four describe their financial situation as “struggling to survive” or “difficult”.

78% of teaching assistants now say that they do not feel that they are paid fairly for the work that they do**. At the same time, pressure at work is growing – 60% of teaching assistants say they have too much work to do, with 85% saying that stress and workloads have increased. 36% say the number of staff at work has fallen, which makes it unsurprising that 75% of teaching assistants now work unpaid overtime every week. 69% say pressure at work is affecting their personal lives.

Jon Richards, UNISON head of education, said: “School support staff have a vital role to play in making sure that children in school get the best possible start in life. But many are struggling to look after their own families because of low pay, made even worse by the three year-long pay freeze at the same time as inflation has risen.

“People are waking up to the damaging impact of low pay on families and on the wider community. Rock bottom wages mean parents have to take on extra work, leaving less time for them to look after their children. Other families have to go without activities such as sports clubs.

“The knock on costs to our society are huge and our schools and the government should know better. As well as lifting families out of poverty, paying the living wage also boosts productivity and reduces staff turnover – saving employers money.”

More than 100 school support workers will be meeting in London today (9 May 2012) at the union’s annual schools support staff seminar.

Notes to editors:

* The impact of austerity on unison members – June 2012

** A survey of 14,000 local government workers for UNISON, which had responses from 513 teaching assistants – March 2013