High housing costs driving up poverty among public service workers, says UNISON  

Report shows rapid rise in rent and mortgage payments is taking significant toll

High rents and mortgage payments are a cause of major financial stress for nearly a third of public service workers including cleaners, care staff and teaching assistants, says UNISON today (Friday).

A report commissioned by the union, based on a survey of more than 2,600 public service workers in the UK, shows housing costs have increased for more than three in five (63%).

The document Through the Roof highlights how a rapid rise in rent and mortgage payments is taking a significant toll, says UNISON.

The survey aimed to identify which groups were hardest hit by asking how many paid 60% or more of their household income on accommodation.

Almost a third (32%) of private renters did so, for housing association tenants it was a quarter (25%), council tenants a similar figure (24%), and nearly one in five (19%) of those paying a mortgage.

The high cost of housing combined with low pay means that nearly one in four (23%) public service workers are really struggling financially and cutting back on food and essentials.

Workers in the NHS, social care and local authority schools are among those worst affected, according to the findings.

The impact for public service staff of the high price of keeping a roof over their heads is that some are forced to live a long way from their workplace, says UNISON.

More than one in ten (12%) believe they are living too far from work but have little choice because they cannot afford to move closer. As a result they must spend a large proportion of their income on petrol or public transport, the union says.

Through the Roof outlines several recommendations for the government to act upon.

These include investment to increase the supply of all types of housing but especially social housing. Making homes accessible and affordable for public service key workers must be a priority, says UNISON, but so must increases to minimum wage levels.

The report also calls on ministers to allow councils to retain all the money they receive from property sales. This would enable them to make their own decisions on how it is used and invested.

UNISON head of local government Mike Short said: “Housing costs are driving up poverty among public service workers and their families.

“It’s unacceptable that cleaners, care staff and other frontline employees are at risk of destitution and forced to live in overcrowded, poor-quality homes far from their place of work.

“The government must take action including boosting wages for public service workers so they can afford decent housing.”

Notes to editors:
– Contact the UNISON press office for the full report which UNISON commissioned from Labour Research Department, an independent research organization. The survey ran from December 2022 to February 2023.
– UNISON is the UK’s largest union and the largest union in the NHS and in the ambulance sector, 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.

Media contacts:
Anthony Barnes M: 07834 864794 E: a.barnes@unison.co.uk
Fatima Ayad M: 07508 080383 E: f.ayad@unison.co.uk