UNISON has warned that low-paid workers in the public sector have “nothing left to cut from their budgets” after research found that 31% are skipping meals to make ends meet amid the deepening cost-of-living crisis.
Publishing the findings of its survey today as part of the Together We Rise report, UNISON warned that low-paid public sector employees including teaching assistants, hospital porters and care staff are unable to cover basic living costs.
According to the research, which received responses from more than 3,000 public service workers earning £20,000 or less, many are skipping meals, not visiting the dentist and taking on second jobs to cope with rapidly rising prices.
84% told the union that rising bills and pressures on their household budgets are taking a toll on their health. More than half, 53%, said the financial support from the government on energy bills has not addressed their concerns because of other increasing costs such as food and fuel.
80% reported that they have resorted to switching off the heating in order to make ends meet, while 64% said they have been limiting their car journeys. 60% told researchers they have been keeping the lights turned off and almost a third, 30%, responded to say that they have been avoiding trips to the dentist.
Commenting on the report, UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said: “Low-paid workers have nothing left to cut from their budgets. They’re now forced to take drastic measures which could damage their health and leave them deeper in debt. Some may never recover from the financial and emotional hit.
“Many can’t afford to work in public services any longer, which will have a devastating effect on our communities. The government must realise that to protect services and the people who rely on them, staff need to be paid fairly with wages increases in line with, or above, inflation.”
According to the survey, 31% of low-paid public sector workers have been skipping meals, with 11% reporting that they have been doing so in order to allow their children to eat instead. 13% are planning on avoiding cooking hot food.
One person said they have eaten one meal per day for a week “to squeeze my food budget out for the rest of the month”, adding: “I was just surviving before. Now my energy bills have doubled and I’m scared of what the winter will bring.”
Another reported that they have had to borrow money from family members, rely on food banks and collect free items from websites and that they are worried about having to choose between heating their home or buying food over the winter.
UNISON argued that the government’s failure to address these pressures is leading to workers quitting the sector. 39% said they have or plan to increase work hours, 27% to take a second job and 19% to leave the public sector for a job elsewhere.
The TUC launched its campaign for a £15 national minimum wage on Tuesday. The federation of trade unions outlined a path for the government to deliver a national rise to a £15 hourly rate for all workers, regardless of their age.
Consultancy Cornwall Insight released its latest projections for the energy bill price cap on Monday. The companythat the cap will rise to £3,553 in October before increasing again to £4,649.72 in January next year.
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