Socialist Worker

Shocking figures show need for a fight over poverty pay

by Charlie Kimber
Issue No. 2644

Workers in Kensington and Chelsea won the living wage by fighting last year

Outsourced workers at Kensington and Chelsea council won the living wage by fighting last year (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Shocking new figures have revealed that more than a million public sector workers are paid below the most basic amount required to make ends meet.

The Living Wage Foundation sets this figure as £9 an hour, or £10.55 in London. This is higher than the statutory minimum of £7.83 an hour for adults.

The report said a total of 1.2 million public sector workers and those on outsourced contracts were paid below its voluntary rate. This including 638,000 workers in local government, 335,000 in health authorities and the NHS and 98,000 in universities. A survey of 1,000 adults found that almost two-thirds believed public sector workers should be paid the higher figure.

Christina McAnea, the assistant general secretary of Unison, said, “Hundreds of thousands of workers delivering essential public services are on poverty pay. Many have second and even third jobs just to keep the wolf from the door.”

Lola McEvoy is head of campaigns at the Living Wage Foundation. He said, “It's simply wrong that our teaching assistants, cleaners, carers and catering staff are struggling on wages that don’t meet basic living costs.

“It’s time for our public institutions to lead by example and join nearly 5,000 employers who pay the real living wage.

Anna, a worker in the NHS n east London told Socialist Worker, "I am called a support worker but we are all part of the NHS team. We all matter.

"Yet I am on £8.76 an hour. I can't live on that. Even the most basic things are impossible and in the end you get a demoralised workforce." 

This grim revelation of low pay punctures the Tory myth that work is always a way out of poverty. And it emphasises that the growth in employment in recent years has included a mass of low-paid jobs.

The figures also raise the question of what the unions have been doing.  

Too often it has felt like a one-sided class war has been going on, without nearly enough resistance organised by the union leaders. Instead they have frequently argued for acceptance of below-inflation pay deals that have contributed to the picture this survey describes.

It’s time for a serious battle to raise the minimum wage to £10 an hour and beyond. And the unions should fight any public sector pay settlement that fails to win back the amounts stolen during the last decade.


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