Faith school staff forced into financial hardship by Church of England, says UNISON    

UNISON says Church of England must honour pledge over pay

Church leaders are forcing faith school staff into financial hardship by denying them the real living wage, says UNISON today (Wednesday).  

On the day senior clergy meet to discuss the cost-of-living crisis, the union and Church Action on Poverty are launching a campaign to get the Church of England to pay up. 

Staff from UNISON and the social justice charity have lobbied delegates attending the General Synod in London today (Wednesday) to honour a promise made over a decade ago. 

In December, UNISON wrote to the heads of the Church of England and Catholic Church asking them to make good their pledge to pay at least the real living wage to the lowest paid staff. 

Catering workers, cleaners and caretakers in more than 6,800 church schools in England and Wales including in London are among those struggling to feed their families.

The letters to the Archbishops of Canterbury, York and Westminster warned that thousands of these employees face “devastating financial hardship” unless churches follow through on a promise made in 2012.

A UNISON analysis of the Living Wage Foundation’s website suggests fewer than 50 Catholic and Church of England school employers are accredited for paying the real living wage.   

Additional research by the union* shows just over half (55%) of church secondary and primary schools say they are paying the real living wage to their directly employed staff. Only three in ten (30%) were requiring their contractors to pay this rate.  

The churches signed up in 2012** to the wage boost. Church school staff should now all be getting at least £10.90 an hour (or £11.95 in London) under the current real living wage rates.  

Prominent members of the clergy, such as Bishop of London Sarah Mullally, have spoken publicly about their support for the real living wage for all workers.

UNISON says low wages are leading to staff leaving the education sector for better wages elsewhere, which means the staff left behind struggle with growing workloads.  

The union wants all staff working for private contractors delivering services to schools to also receive at least the real living wage, as well as full sick pay like their directly employed colleagues.

UNISON is urging the church to ask schools to draw up timetables to become accredited living wage employers.  

UNISON head of education Mike Short said: “The cost-of-living crisis is biting hard but church leaders have yet to demonstrate that charity begins at home. 

“The Bible teaches that Christians must set an example. Staff need action with a proper wage boost, not just supportive words.  

“It’s time the Church of England put its money where its mouth is and paid up.” 

Notes to editors:   
– UNISON representatives and members will be lobbying with placards on Wednesday 8 February from 8.15am to 9am at Church House, Dean’s Yard, Great Smith Street, Westminster SW1P 3AZ. Photographs will be available to the media after the event or news desks can send their own photographers. 
­–*UNISON sent freedom of information requests to 201 Catholic and Church of England secondary and primary schools in England and Wales between 6 April and 7 June 2022. A total of 62 responded and just over half (55%) said they were paying the real living wage to their directly employed staff. Only three in ten (30%) required their contractors to pay this rate. 
– ​**In 2012, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales passed a resolution to endorse the real living wage. In the same year, the Church of England General Synod passed a motion to encourage all their institutions in England to pay the real living wage.   
– UNISON is the UK’s largest union with more than 1.3 million members providing public services in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy. They are employed in the public, voluntary and private sectors.   
– Case study: James Brent, who works at a church school, says: “I have two children, but can’t afford to heat my home. I’ve worked in schools for 20 years but have never seen things as bad as now. I’m thinking about leaving to get a job in a shop. It would pay more and I wouldn’t have the stress.”     

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