Tackling poverty took pole position as conference got under way in Brighton
“We now live in a deeply divided society,” Owen Stewart of Northern Ireland told UNISON delegates gathered in Brighton as the union’s annual conference got under way.
“Poverty affects millions of people across the UK,” said Mr Stewart as he moved the first motion being considered by the national delegate conference.
Looking beyond the direct workplace concerns of members, he pointed out that 3.7 million children – 28% of all children – are living in poverty, and 50% of them are in working families, “a growing number of whom are UNISON members”.
“The current UK and devolved governments’ poverty strategies have failed,” said Mr Steward. But more than that, austerity policies and cuts “will only serve to increase poverty.”
And as Sarah Crow of the NEC pointed out: “Low-paid workers are the largest group living in poverty, because they are on poverty pay.”
Margaret Greer from Hammersmith and Fulham local government warned delegates that this can have a corrosive effect on society: “Poverty causes fear, which causes people to look for scapegoats.”
School kitchen assistant Wendy Harris shared the reality of poverty, telling delegates: “I have to go to the shops at 7pm to buy food at reduced prices.
“I don’t get a holiday – this is my holiday!”
And working in a school in east London, she said, “I see children every day who depend on their meal at school because there is nothing at home for them.”
Conference took these messages to heart and vowed to campaign and develop strategy across the union to tackle poverty and make anti-poverty work a UNISON priority, working with allies across society.