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Feeling the squeeze: service users and staff are worth more than this

by Karen Jennings

Rarely can the old adage about lies, damn lies and statistics have been better demonstrated than with the ongoing spat around the latest pay and incomes data.

The prime minister has sought to use such figures to his advantage by claiming that take-home pay is rising for all but the top 10% of earners.

The reality of course is quite different.

The latest ONS stats show that since 2010 real wages have been falling for the longest sustained period for at least 50 years. This is consistent with findings from the Institute for Fiscal Studies that real household income is now more than 6% lower than it was in the pre-crash era.

The IFS also point out that inflation has been higher for the lowest paid than those at the top, due to the poorest spending more of their income on items such as food and heating.

Government boasts about the numbers of people in employment ignore the fact that nearly half the UK workforce are not on the full-time payroll, with workers forced to turn to casual work or self-employment due to the dearth of alternatives.

This assault on the living standards of the British population is unprecedented and shows no sign of letting up before 2015.

As taxpayer-owned RBS tries to justify paying its executives 200% bonuses, the rest of the country has realised that this is a recovery for the millionaires, not the millions.

A ComRes poll for ITV News found that three-quarters of the population believe that economic inequality is widening. Public service workers, thousands of whom are affected by in-work poverty and struggling with mounting debt, would echo this view very loudly.

The downwards spiral of zero-hours, low pay and indebtedness has to be halted.

UNISON’s Worth It campaign aims to do just this, by placing the pay and living standards of public service workers at the centre of the cost of living debate. As you would expect, campaigning for fairer and better public sector pay is a big part of this. But the solution, and therefore the campaign, must go wider.

The public are shelling out too much and getting back too little in return. For example, as taxpayers we continue to subsidise employers who pay low wages and whose staff have to rely on in-work benefits.

And George Osborne’s VAT hike has cost families more than £1,300 in extra tax, but this money hasn’t found its way back into communities through extra spending on public services.

Quite the opposite; we have had cuts on a scale not even attempted in Margaret Thatcher’s heyday.

Of course those at the bottom of the pile get the worst deal, with Britain’s poorest areas facing the biggest council cuts. As many as 70,000 low earners, single parents and disabled people are being pursued by bailiffs due to the changes to council tax benefits.

And these policies have a disproportionate impact on women and the over 50s. It is time for a new approach. Our public service workers are worth more than this, and so are those that depend on them.

Karen Jennings is UNISON’s assistant general secretary for bargaining, negotiating and equalities.

Follow the Worth It campaign on twitter @WORTHit_UNISON or email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) to sign up to support the campaign.

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