UNISON’s members work across public services, and so can see the breadth and depth of worry, hardship and suffering caused by the government’s austerity cuts on services – both for themselves and their colleagues, and for the diversity of people for whom they try to care.
Sometimes, speaking out in defence of the services they provide can cause individuals even more problems. At a time when jobs are constantly being cut, it can’t feel safe to speak the truth. That’s where UNISON can help, speaking on behalf of our members, voicing their concerns with employers.
Here three of our members speak their minds to the union, anonymously. Their accounts paint a disturbing picture of everyone in society feeling the cost of the cuts – from children to the elderly, families and their providers, and workers trying to do their best, against the odds.
The teaching assistant
“I work as a special educational needs (SEN) classroom assistant, helping a year five boy who is autistic.
“There are several other children in the class who don’t have SEN assistants, but who need a lot of support. Some of them can’t even read or write. I’m not supposed to spend time with other children in class. But if they don’t get proper attention now, it’s just going to lead to further problems later on.
“We need more classroom assistants, but the school can’t afford to pay them.
“I went to this school myself. In those days it was fantastic, but now it’s changed. It didn’t pass the inspection, and there just isn’t enough money for what’s needed, not even a glue stick or other materials like that. There’s no PE equipment – none at all, no football nets in the playground, no basketball hoops, simple things like that the children need, and that they’d enjoy.
“I work 20 hours a week but I’m not permanent, so I could lose my job at any time. And when I’m off on holidays, I don’t get paid at all.
“I used to have a part-time retail job in a local shopping centre, which I’d had for nine years. But I was made redundant just before Christmas, and people are saying the whole shopping centre might close down.
“The teachers are under pressure, and that filters down to us, and to the children.
“We give wee prizes as incentives, and today one of the children said, ‘Miss, I would like to name you for a prize for all the work you do for the teacher.’”
The homecare worker
“I went to a teatime call – I’d been allotted 30 minutes – for an elderly, frail service user with dementia. It was a bank holiday and she was terribly upset and unable to stop crying, because she was aware that, in her words, her ‘brain was going’.
“The purpose of the call was to prepare her evening meal, which effectively took most of the 30 allotted minutes.
“I felt a terrible dilemma, between wanting to take the time to sit with her and try to comfort her, and the knowledge that I also needed to ensure I provided her with a meal.
“I felt a bit helpless and inadequate that I could not do both. And I know from talking to colleagues that they very often face the same dilemma.
“It’s horrible having to make tough choices between delivering practical care and offering time and compassion.”
The social worker
“I am a social worker working mainly with elderly people, aged 65 and upwards. I’ve heard so many of them saying they’ve got money to spend either on heating, or eating. Those are the stark realities. These cuts are biting very hard.
“We are seeing the results in terms of an increase in the level of referrals. If your son loses his job and he’s the breadwinner, the mother and father are bound to worry about their grandchildren. There’s a greater degree of anxiety in all families.
“We’ve retained frontline staff – there are no casualties there.
“It’s the support staff that have been affected. People are being employed on casual contracts, on minimum wage. And that affects people’s ability to plan their future – the further education of their children, pensions, clothes, holidays.
Tell us about a local service that has been cut in your community and how it has affected you in ‘Tell us your story’.