Leaders from across the charity sector have joined Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, and UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea for a roundtable on the cost of living crisis.
The event, at UNISON Centre on Friday 10 June, aimed to bring together the various strands of the cost of living crisis and hear views from key stakeholders – to inform policy development and explore opportunities for collective action.
Ms McAnea opened the session, outlining UNISON’s particular concerns, and introducing the various themes. The roundtable was based around four questions:
- What further long-term measures are needed to protect households in the future?
- How can we build on this support to make the case for higher pay and benefits?
- How does this pay gap impact public services, and how is the recruitment and retention crisis best addressed?
- What policy options would break the cycle of low pay, insecure or zero-hour work contracts?
In particular, she highlighted the “myth that public sector workers are causing inflation and that they should exercise pay restraint,” adding the example that half of local government workers earn under £25,000 a year.
Ms Reeves outlined the three different strands of the cost of living crisis that Labour is looking at – prices, wages and security of work.
The major focus seemed to be falling on prices, she said, with energy bills soaring and inflation at a 30-year high.
However, the pressure on wages was equally important, particularly in the public sector, with pay deals lagging behind inflation consistently over the past decade. She added that this has an effect on the quality of services, referencing the NHS backlogs and the recruitment and retention crises across the public sector.
Finally, she called for greater security at work to be achieved through employment rights and giving trade unions further rights.
The subsequent debate touched on a range of issues, such as:
- Viewing the energy crisis as more than just a supply chain issue;
- Viewing social security as the bedrock of the UK and creating a floor that guarantees everyone a basic quality of life;
- Not getting dragged into the short term ‘gap filling’ argument, but looking for both medium and long-term solutions equally;
- How to solve the issue of pensioners not claiming the pension credit for which they are eligible;
- Recognising the role that training and development has in both quality of services and fighting off in-work poverty, and on reversing the decay of training investment over the last decade;
- Acknowledging the regional disparities in the cost of living crisis and that a solution therefore requires different approaches.