Government must scrap the pay cap says UNISON, as survey shows employees are struggling

Staff providing public services are being forced to cut back on groceries, borrow money from friends or family, and even go without meals to feed their children because the government has capped their pay, according to a survey today (Tuesday) from UNISON.

The survey is released to coincide with the first day of UNISON’s national conference in Brighton. Later today general secretary Dave Prentis will call upon the government to lift the pay cap, and undo the damage its pay policies are causing, when he speaks to delegates.

The research is based on responses from more than 6,500 employees including paramedics, teaching assistants, council workers and police staff across the UK. The survey highlights how years of wage restraint have left many struggling through to the next pay day.

More than three quarters (77 per cent) have cut back on food shopping in the last year, and more than half (52 per cent) have borrowed money from family and friends.

Others (16 per cent) have resorted to using debt advice services or applied for payday loans (7 per cent), while one in ten (11 per cent) have missed meals to feed their children.

Nearly a quarter (24 per cent) said they didn’t know what they would do if they had an unexpected expense such as their car or boiler packing up, and a fifth (21 per cent) said they would simply have to make do without.

Four in ten said they cannot afford to put any money away each month (41 per cent) and more than a quarter (29 per cent) regularly spend more than they earn. More than a quarter (27 per cent) are currently looking for a better paid job because they cannot afford to live on their current salary.

The survey also reveals that a small but worrying number (110) of people are so desperate they are turning to food banks for help.

It comes amid growing pressure on the government to give public sector workers a proper pay rise. Yesterday (Monday) Dave Prentis was among senior health union leaders who signed a letter to Prime Minister Theresa May urging her to remove the pay cap.

 Commenting on the survey Dave Prentis said: “Seven long years ago nurses, school meals staff, social workers, PCSOs and other public service employees were told to tighten their belts as the government said it had to freeze and squeeze their wages to pay down the deficit.

“As a result public sector workers have seen their incomes fall drastically in real terms, and with inflation on the rise this means real financial hardship. A modern caring society should not allow those who look after people when they’re ill, help educate our children or keep the public safe on the streets to be treated in this shoddy way.

“And it’s not just individual employees or their families who suffer either. The government’s harsh pay policies have left hospitals, schools, town halls and police forces struggling to attract new staff and hold onto experienced employees. Public services and public sector workers always step up when they’re needed.

“Enough is enough. The election result showed that people have had enough of austerity and the damage being wreaked on public services and communities.

“The one per cent cap has already been breached by wage awards to MPs, and top judges and civil servants. Now it’s time to lift it for everyone else in the public sector, and give dedicated staff a decent, and long overdue, pay rise.”

Notes to editors:
– A total of 6,534 people in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland took part in the survey with the majority working in local government (32 per cent), the NHS (29 per cent) and in schools (13 per cent). They included public, voluntary and private sector employees.
– Public sector staff pay rises are currently capped at one per cent a year until 2019.
– The UK inflation rate is 2.9 per cent, the highest since June 2013 and up from 2.7 per cent in April. The Retail Prices Index (RPI) measure of inflation increased to 3.7 per cent in June, up from 3.5 per cent the month before.
– UNISON’s annual conference opens in Brighton today and runs through until Friday. Dave Prentis is speaking at 2.30pm today and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will address delegates on Friday.

Media contacts:
Sophie Goodchild T: 0207 121 5546 M: 07767 325595 E: s.goodchild@unison.co.uk
Fatima Ayad M: 07508 080383 E: f.ayad@unison.co.uk
Joe Lewis T: 0207 121 5555 M: 07970 863411 E: j.lewis5@unison.co.uk