Council shame at scramble to stay above the law

 Local councils across England, Wales and Northern Ireland have had to scramble to delete their bottom pay point to stay just above legal minimum earnings, said UNISON, the UK’s largest local government union today (6 September).   

The wages of over 21,000 mainly women workers in occupations such as cleaning and catering – will now be just above the national minimum wage when the rate goes up to £6.31 an hour on 1 October. In anticipation of the increase, the Local Government Employers were forced to save face by setting a new bottom rate of £6.45 an hour – which is still £1 an hour below the living wage. 

Over 500,000 local government workers earn below the living wage rate set at £7.45 pence an hour outside of London. If Local Government workers had received pay rises in line with the retail price index over 2010-13 – instead of a pay freeze and squeeze – their pay would be 18% higher – and would have reached the living wage rate.

Low pay in councils is giving rise to stagnant local economies, warned the union.  In a snap-shot survey of 247 councillors, chief executives and officers, two thirds (66.4%) agreed or strongly agreed that pay cuts and job losses for council staff are contracting demand in the local economy to the detriment of local business.

Heather Wakefield, UNISON Head of Local Government, said:

“It is shameful that poverty pay is so endemic in local councils, dragging down the workforce and undermining local economies – and thereby the UK economy. And what a disgrace that councils waited until the very last moment to delete the bottom rate – on the same day as the new minimum wage becomes law.

“We need more councils to take a long hard look at their workforce and try to imagine families surviving on £6.45 an hour.  That is why UNISON is campaigning for the living wage as the bottom rate for all local government workers –to lift workers out of a hand to mouth existence –.  For the half a million council workers who earn below the living wage, that translates into very real hardship in the home. 

“53% of local council workers’ pay ends up in the cash tills of local businesses, shops and cafes.  With pay rates set so low, council workers cannot afford to go out and spend in their local high street and this is leading to shops closing, councils losing rates and a vicious circle of decline. 

“We need a living wage now.”

Notes to Editors 

Heather Wakefield  is speaking at an evening fringe on the Living Wage organised by War on Want at the TUC in Bournemouth on Monday 9 September, alongside Rachel Reeves, Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Paul Mason Kat Banyard and a representative of the Indian Garment Workers union.