‘I go without lunch and tell my colleagues I’m on a diet’

Stories from the front line of the public sector pay cap

For years now, public service workers have seen their pay held back by government in the name of austerity.

UNISON is currently working hard on our Pay Up Now! campaign, and as part of that members have been telling us their stories of living without enough money.


“I’m in a debt spiral thanks to a pay freeze, increased cost of living and unplanned family emergencies.

“The car was written off (head gasket blew) and so we had to buy a new one, we have no savings and couldn’t get a loan so paid for it on credit card. I’m never out of my overdraft, I frequently go without lunch to save money for our weekly shop to make sure there’s enough food for the kids.

“I tell my colleagues I’m on a diet to hide it or pretend I used the wrong card to pay if they see me use a credit card. It’s embarrassing and demoralising.

“Yes, I did this to myself because I spent money I didn’t have, but without buying groceries on my credit card we wouldn’t eat for half the month and now the interest is catching up with me.”




“In the last six to seven years I have been forced to take a reduction in salary of over £5,000 per year…

“…yet I’m doing the same job, only for three local authorities now instead of one. I have lost my essential car allowance, yet still expected to provide a car and drive between sites.

“On top of this, my partner is disabled but this government cut her benefits for three years because I work full time. Our household income is down over £11,000 before any calculation for low pay increases or freezes is taken into account.”




“Six years ago I was at the top of grade two and things were getting tight…

“…fortunately I was able to move to a grade three position in 2012 and for a while the pressure on finances eased off.

“However, since then I’ve been successively squeezed with regards to cost of living. My media package has increased by over 20%. Petrol has climbed in price and all the while wages have been frozen, now even climbing scale points have been frozen.

“I now find myself with less and less at the end of each month. Some months I have to borrow from my savings to reach payday, especially if something unexpected like a car problem rears its head.

“I’ve seen what was a comfortable margin of money I could add to my savings diminished by almost 65%. It has to stop.”




“Despite my husband and I earning a decent wage, we are still struggling with day-to-day living.

“We cannot save as at the end of the month because we have nothing. The government do not help working families. I would like a pay rise, as a learning support assistant wage is nothing compared to the workload and stress I have to deal with on a daily basis.

“I have in the past two years had two weeks signed off by the doctor with mental stress. Something has to change for the better.”




“A single parent, I lost my relatively well-paid job as a first-line adult education manager over six years ago.

“After nine months unemployment, I managed to get a job with a different council at a much lower grade.

“I now pay invoices and do other admin jobs for half the pay I got as an adult education manager. My pay has stagnated and in September, I will lose all the income I currently have from tax credits, child benefit and maintenance as my two youngest children will be over 18.

“The elder is still at university, so though officially off my hands he comes home for all his holidays. The youngest wants to take a year off before going to higher education – but has been unable to find a job as yet to support himself. What a pickle!!”


Find out more about UNISON’s Pay Up Now! campaign and share your own story of what the pay cap means for you