Good articles on Low Pay and the Living Wage in this week's Weston Mercury.
District’s workers struggling to cope (article by Bethan Evans)
WORKERS in Weston and North Somerset have been named the worst hit by the recession, according to a recent survey, leaving families struggling to pay food and house bills.
The result comes from campaigning trade union GMB’s survey, based on figures from the Office for National Statistics, and revealed an 18.5 per cent drop in the real value of earnings in North Somerset since 2008.
The study, which is based on wage figures from April 2008 to November 2012, showed people living in the South West and Wiltshire were the worst affected.
In 2008 the annual earnings for resident employees in North Somerset was £28,304. This had dipped to £27,334 in 2012, a decrease of £1,069.
Ian Fraser, from Weston Foodbank, said there has also been an increase in residents being referred to the charity.
He said: “We are noticing people on low wages, who cannot keep up with utility bills and food prices, are being referred to us. In January the number doubled, compared to last year.
“Last year we were giving out an average of one tonne of food a month to the people of Weston. In November and December it went up to 1.5 tonnes and by January we were giving out 2.3 tonnes.”
But Ian said this also shows the amount of support members of the community are offering to help their struggling neighbours.
He said: “We are seeing the community come together and support local charities like the Foodbank.
“Unfortunately it looks like charities have to take on statutory obligations, which we are not equipped to do, but at least the community is stepping up and it deserves thanks.”
GMB’s survey also showed Somerset’s annual earnings in 2012 went down by £1,606 from 2008.
Helen Thornton, from North Somerset Unison, added: “I think this is an issue of fairness.
“Unison, as a trade union, has welfare funding, which members can apply for if they are in financial difficulty. My understanding is that applications have rocketed, particularly over the past three years where people have not had a pay rise.
“I think it’s outrageous we live in a society where we think it’s OK to pay people who do important jobs, such as carers for example, such a low wage. There is something immoral about that.”
Council workers could be in line for pay rises (article by Tom Wright)
THE lowest paid public sector workers could be set for a pay rise after the council announced plans to review its wage structure.
North Somerset Council leader Nigel Ashton has agreed to a request from trade union members to investigate the affordability of boosting the pay for some of the authority’s workforce.
Cleaners, school caterers and school crossing patrol workers all earn less than the living wage, according to Unison’s Helen Thornton.
She said while they earn above the UK minimum wage – £6.19 per hour for employees aged 21 and over – their wage is below the living wage of £7.45 per hour, meaning many council workers have to choose between ‘eating and heating’.
Cllr Ashton confirmed a working party would be set up to look into whether the lowest paid employees could receive an increased salary.
He said the group would be headed by Cllr Tony Lake, executive member for finance, and involve members of all political parties and trade union representatives.
Ms Thornton said she was glad the council was looking into the idea of the living wage following three years of pay freezes.
She said: “The public spending cuts are hitting the poorest and most vulnerable the hardest. Austerity has choked off economic growth and ordinary people’s incomes are not keeping up with prices.
“They have less money to spend and in some cases are forced to choose between eating or heating.
“According to the Trades Union Congress there are 22,463 workers - 26 per cent of the working population - in North Somerset, who earn under the living wage of £7.45 per hour.
“The living wage is the minimum income necessary for a worker to meet basic needs, such as food, clothing and housing.
“Almost 20 per cent of the council’s own workforce, including schools staff, earn under the living wage and the vast majority of these are women.”