One in four community workers on less than living wage

One quarter of community sector workers are being paid below the living wage, according to a union survey of employees in housing, children, disability and rights and advice services.

In a report unveiled at the House of Commons last night, Unison revealed that 24 per cent of staff get paid less than the living wage – however, as the survey of staff was conducted in July and August, before this week’s increase in the living wage to £7.65 an hour or £8.80 in London, this figure is now likely to be higher.

In general, the Unison report found that pay has been static or declining. Some 21 per cent of employees working in these four areas had seen their pay decrease in the last year. Just under half (49 per cent) said their pay had not changed.

Zero-hours contracts

Nearly one in ten employees in these fields are on zero-hours contracts; however, Simon Watson, Unison’s national officer for the community and voluntary sector, told the roundtable that the figure is likely to be a lot higher. Zero-hours workers are typically more difficult to reach and unionise, and Unison’s survey was based on member response only.  

Unison blamed public service commissioners for “driving down costs to an unsustainable level” leading to “huge problems” with stress, under-staffing and an “epidemic” of low pay within the community and voluntary sector services.

Karen Jennings, assistant general secretary for Unison, said the union is concerned that the community and voluntary sector is seen as a “soft touch” for commissioners, and voluntary organisations’ commitment to clients means they will rarely walk away from unfair contracts. “It’s not endlessly possible to do more with less,” Jennings said.

“This report is a wake-up call… we are approaching crisis point.”

Three out of four employees said that work was causing them stress, and the majority reported this had become worse since government cuts began; however, 11 per cent felt their stress levels had improved. Most employees did more than their contracted hours, and 40 per cent said staff morale was either “poor or very poor”, the majority again reporting that this had become worse in recent years.

Cuts impacting on beneficiaries

The survey also found that many workers feared the cuts were having a material impact on their client base, with a majority of housing workers reporting more tenants falling behind on rent, three-quarters of children’s workers fearing that children were slipping through the net, two-thirds of disability workers reporting that clients were being put at risk and four out of five rights and advocacy workers reporting it has become harder for clients to get access to advice.

The union’s report was based on a survey of just under 3,000 of its members employed in these four key areas which have been particularly impacted by local government spending cuts.

This article was taken from Civil Society: http://www.civilsociety.co.uk/finance/news/content/16353/