Blog: Levelling up the forgotten frontline

Our local government workers deserve no less credit and applause than health workers – and they deserve fair pay now

Many, many working people have helped the country get us to this point on the pandemic journey. Our future is brighter and full of hope now – only because of the sacrifices of so many.

Our local government workers deserve no less credit and applause than health workers. This army of care workers, school support staff, refuse collectors, social workers and many more went out to work, day in, day out, while many of us were able to do our jobs from home.

While the media focussed on the crisis in our hospitals, our members put themselves in harm’s way, to help the most vulnerable in our communities and keep our most essential services going.

Who delivered food parcels to the shielding? Who housed the rough sleepers? Who kept offices and schools clean and open for essential services and lockdown learning for key worker children? Who collected your rubbish despite personal risk? Who went into people’s homes and looked after our elderly relatives? Who dealt with the tragic increase in funerals and cremations?

Yes, local government workers and school support staff. The country owes you a debt of gratitude as much as anyone else. UNISON knows that the country owes you a proper pay rise. We’re asking for a 10% pay rise for local government workers this year.

But this month, the employers responded with an offer of just 1.5%, which is insulting set against what we’re asking for and what you deserve.

Now 10% sounds a lot, but if we deal in facts and not clickbait headlines, it’s nothing but reasonable.

Most local government workers are low paid now, with 16% not earning £10 an hour and 8% not even earning the real living wage – the rate the Living Wage Foundation deems enough to actually live on.

This is after over a decade of pay cuts and freezes which has wiped out a quarter of their pay. Imagine how you would cope with losing 25% of the value of your pay. With inflation rising again, the cost of food, energy and housing is rising and the offer of 1.5% would once again represent a loss of pay, in real terms.

A 10% pay rise would mean all council and school workers earn a real living wage.

And if you think the country ‘can’t afford’ to ‘reward’ these and other public service workers, let me set you straight.

Firstly it’s not a reward, it’s fair pay for doing a vital job. And secondly, we can’t afford not to. These services will not continue unless we invest in the people providing them. Overworked and underpaid – how much longer do you think they will stick around. Would you?

And frankly a 10% pay rise for low paid workers pales into insignificance when compared to £37 billion wasted on track and trace, the £849million estimated cost of ‘eat out to help out’ and £2 billion in COVID contracts to Tory donors.

The Westminster government talks a lot about levelling up and about investing in a brighter, post-COVID future for the country.

Well it can make a start now, by investing in the people who sacrificed so much to make sure the country actually has a future to look forward to.

If you want to get involved in our campaign for fair pay, why not use our special tool to email you MP and get them to ask the government for more money funding for local government pay.

For all the latest campaign news, visit our campaign web page