Basic human needs are NOT luxuries to be rationed

June 21, 2012 10:02 am

Yesterday’s unemployment figures make grim reading: the last quarter has seen 39,000 public sector jobs cut, bringing public sector employment to its lowest point since 2003, small overall reductions in unemployment do little to mask the harsh reality for public service workers.

It might come as little surprise then, when more than three quarters of UNISON members are reporting that they have received no pay increase, and 12% reporting a pay cut, that workers are struggling to make ends meet.

UNISON’s charity arm – There for You – provides grants to UNISON members who are experiencing financial difficulties. There for You paid out more than £750,000 in grants last year, an increase of 11% on the year before, so it stands to reason that yesterday’s unemployment figures will be cold comfort for many, many public service workers whose jobs are under threat.

The grants being paid out highlight just how desperate the situation has become for many of our members: since 2010, emergency crisis payments that include grants for food have risen by 10%, health and medical grants have leapt by 45%, and clothing grants have soared by an enormous 509%. The Government’s cuts are taking the shirts off the backs of UNISON members.

And it doesn’t stop there. Soaring fuel prices are adding further pressure to the already stretched budgets of public sector workers, and are having a destructive effect on their quality of life. Members applying for fuel grants have revealed the very real sacrifices they are having to make to their lives just to keep their homes warm, with some being forced into measures as extreme as putting the heating on only when the temperature drops below freezing, or are going to bed early to keep warm.

Utility grants paid out by There for You have increased by 34% since 2010, despite members taking drastic measures to reduce their outgoings, including selling the family car, and giving up even small luxuries such as cinema trips. One member told us that she only put the heating on at the weekend, when her grandchildren were visiting, a particularly poignant reminder of just how bad the situation had become for some people.

It is a damning indictment on the Government’s austerity agenda that workers in the public sector are having to take such steps to keep food on the table, clothes on their backs and their homes warm. These are basic human needs – not luxuries to cut back on when times get tough – and the Government should be ashamed that cutbacks are being made by some of the lowest paid workers in our society.

It is perverse when bosses in the FTSE 100 enjoy 10% pay rises, as well as telephone number salaries and bonuses, workers who provide vital public services are struggling to keep their homes warm and food on the table. The Government should remember, and remember fast, that public sector workers are the backbone of our society, and that this inhumane treatment will not be endured, and will not be allowed to continue unchallenged.

Our members are rightly very worried by the downward spiral that the quality of their lives is taking. UNISON is there for them, but rest assured, we will take on the Government to make sure they are not left to suffer from being underpaid in an overpriced market that threatens to crush them.

Dave Prentis is the General Secretary of Unison. This post forms part of our coverage of Unison Conference 2012.

  • AnotherOldBoy

    Au contraire.  Yesterday’s figures were most encouraging unless you are the leader of a trade union whose members work in the public sector.

    It is excellent news that the number of public sector employees is back to where it was in 2003 (after 6 yerars of Labour government) and that the dramatic rise in 2009 (when the Great Gordo tried to buy his way out of trouble and back into Number 10 on the never-never) has been reversed.

    Meanwhile private sector employment has been rising: up by 205,000 between December 2011 and March 2012.

    Since the general election, 393,000 jobs have been lost in the public sector, but 529,000 have been added in the private sector.

    • Peter Barnard

      Actually, AOB, your figures apply to “since June 2010″ (not since the general election).

      Since June 2010, the public sector workforce has declined by 6.2% and the private sector workforce has increased by 2.3%. The whole workforce has increased by 0.5%.

      Since June 2010, GDP has increased by 0.3%.

      As the private sector added 205,000 jobs (+ 0.9%) between Dec 2011 and Mar 2012, GDP actually declined by 0.3%. Between Mar 2011 and Mar 2012, the private sector workforce increased by 1.3% and GDP declined by 0.4%.

      Given that the theory was that by reducing “wasteful/non-productive” public sector employees, and increasing “dynamic/productive” private sector employees, enhanced growth would result, perhaps the theory needs re-examining.

      • AnotherOldBoy
        • Peter Barnard

          The ONS figures are the only ones that we have, AOB.

          If you look at the individual sector employment figures over the last year (Mar 2011 to Mar 2012), 113,000 were added in retail,  152,000 in accommodation and food service activities, 128,000 in professional and technical and 101,000 in administration and support service activities.

          These sectors basically suck off the teat of the production industries and productivity increases are more difficult to achieve.

  • leslie48

    One clever way this government has of legitimating cuts is to somehow make the target of the cuts somehow appear faulty, bad or inefficient. We can see these idealogical attacks on the welfare state, on the education system ( Gove is really showing his nasty  elitist nature) on health services etc., The public are  not stupid as one person said last evening this lot are looking worse than Thatchers lot. They are very right wing. We have to move to a more attacking mode – a more leftist approach. I believe Tony Blair was correct for the time period he won Labour’s greatest victory in 1997.  Now Ed has to move to defend important principles of our social democracy and defend rights which have been already won. 

    Its time to really take the gloves off and open up the true class nature of our society because make no mistake here in the South East home counties there is lots and lots of wealth – 4x4s, expensive German Audi’s , massive property wealth, large- scale private education and exam tutoring; that’s not envy it reflects a taxation system that favours the business classes and disfavours the pay as you earn; of course we have to be realistic about some public spending which will be reduced over the coming years but lets not allow the Tory led coalition an excuse to damage our society which will leave it looking like the USA with deep poverty, massive income gaps, poor urban schooling, large health gaps and ugly crime rates.

    • Peter Barnard

      Good response to a good article, Leslie48.

      It will be a long haul, I’m afraid. Early 19C philosophies regarding the wages of “the labouring classes” have become entrenched since 1979, as has the attitude “public sector bad, private sector good.”

  • hp

    As we all have realised by now, we are not under austerity conditions:  public spending is higher than public income.  Just because it is not going into your pocket doesn’t mean it isn’t being spent.  If you think more money should be spent on your wages, then you need to provide a case for not spending it on welfare / pensions / education / whatever.

    Our £ million million (and growing) national debt make it imperitive that we have fewer workers in the Public Sector and more in the Private Sector.  It is only the productivity of the true private sector worker that can contrubute to the public finances.

    These are the consequences of the mismanagement of our govt finances coupled with the end of a credit bubble.  Not pleasant, but we have to start being honest about the situation we are in.

  • Quiet_Sceptic

    I entirely agree that workers should be paid enough to enjoy the necessities in life.

    That said, the figures quoted don’t seem to stack up.

    Unison has roughly 1.3 Million members,  so £750k in grant support to its members amounts to only 58p per member each year; compared to typical union subs that is next to nothing.

    If the need is so great, why does Unison pay out so little?

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