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Unions warn of child poverty among public sector families

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One in seven children with a parent working in the public sector will be living in relative poverty by April, according to analysis by a trade union body.

The claim from the Trades Union Congress comes as negotiations are under way on this year’s pay rise for nurses and other NHS staff on the Agenda for Change contract.

“Ministers must give nurses, teachers and other public sector workers the pay rise they have earned”

Frances O’Grady

According to the TUC, by the end of the current financial year 550,000 children in families that include a public sector worker will be being brought up in poverty – an increase of around 150,000 since 2010, which is equivalent to a 40% rise.

An individual is considered to be in relative poverty if their household income is less than 60% of the median income. Based on the most recent Office for National Statistics figures, the median original income for the whole of the UK last year was £35,204, of which 60% is around £21,122.

The TUC has laid the blame at the government for its public sector pay restrictions and cuts to in-work benefits.

The analysis by the TUC found that families where both parents worked in the public sector had lost out the most, with average household income down by £83 a week in real terms since 2010.

Households where one parents works in the private sector and one in the public sector lost on average £53 over the same period.

“It’s time ministers paid up and lifted thousands of children above the breadline”

Christina McAnea

Scotland saw the biggest increase – 60% – in child poverty rates among families with a public sector employee. Meanwhile, Northern Ireland saw a rise of 53%, Wales 46% and England 37%, according to the TUC figures.

Of the English regions, the South West saw the biggest increase (55%), closely followed by the West Midlands (54%), and North West (51%).

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The government’s pay restrictions and in-work benefit cuts have caused needless hardship all over the UK.

“Public servants shouldn’t have to worry about feeding or clothing their kids. But many are struggling to afford even the basics,” she said, urging the government to think again.

“Ministers must give nurses, teachers and other public sector workers the pay rise they have earned or more families will fall into poverty,” added Ms O’Grady.

Trades Union Congress (TUC)

Francis O’Grady

Frances O’Grady

The pay analysis was modelled on real wages falling by 13.3% between 2010 and 2018 for workers in health and education, and by 14.3% for workers in public administration.

It includes all tax and social security measures introduced under the 2010-15 coalition government and subsequent Conservative government, including the introduction of Universal Credit.

Commenting on the TUC analysis, Unison assistant general secretary Christina McAnea said: “Poor pay has left many public sector families desperately watching the pennies.

“A career helping and caring for others was never going to make millionaires of NHS, school and council staff, but none of them would have expected to be so hard up after years of public service, and for their children to be the ones that suffer,” she said.

“A society that values its public services must extend that worth to the workforce too. It’s time ministers paid up and lifted thousands of children above the breadline,” she added.

Last month, the Department of Health and Social Care published the evidence it has given to the NHS pay review body for the 2018-19 pay round, reiterating the end of the government’s 1% cap on public sector salary rises.

It said pay for NHS Agenda for Change staff should “recognise their hard work”, but that the overall package must be “fair and also affordable”. But it did not mention any specific percentage that it wanted for pay rises.

Every year the review body makes a recommendation to ministers about the level of pay rise staff should receive – but in recent years there has been criticism it has not been able to provide an independent view due to government policy on pay.

It follows a run of seven years where it has been either side-lined by the government or simply rubber-stamping a series of pay freezes and then the 1% cap in increases.

However, the end of the 1% cap on salary rises was finally signaled by health ministers last year and then confirmed by the chancellor in his autumn budget speech.

The RCN and 13 other health unions negotiating on behalf of staff are now calling for a 3.9% pay rise this year, in line with inflation, plus an £800 lump sum.

They claim this would help to make up for lost wages due to the government’s policy of pay restraint since 2010.

However, ministers are keen to secure reforms to Agenda for Change and potentially a multi-year pay deal in exchange for ending the 1% cap on non-incremental wage increases.

 

Number of UK children living in poverty with public sector parent

Household typeNumber of children in poverty under 2010 systemNumber of children in poverty by 2018 under government policiesExtra children in poverty by 2018 (000s)Extra children in poverty by 2018 (%)

Public sector workers only

217,512

321,262

103,750

48%

Public and private sector workers

180,771

236,233

55,462

31%

TOTAL

398,283

557,495

159,212

40%

 

Increase in number of children living in poverty with public sector parent since 2010 (nation/region)

RegionNumber of children in poverty under 2010 systemNumber of children in poverty by 2018 under government policiesExtra children in poverty by 2018 (000s)Extra children in poverty by 2018 (%)

North East

13,025

17,792

4,767

37%

North West

34,289

51,785

17,496

51%

East Midlands

27,845

41,884

14,039

50%

West Midlands

29,354

45,297

15,943

54%

East of England

38,362

49,712

11,350

30%

London

82,660

100,350

17,690

21%

South East

48,342

63,437

15,095

31%

South West

27,749

42,951

15,202

55%

Yorkshire

34,965

49,415

14,450

41%

England

336,591

462,623

126,032

37%

Scotland

26,654

42,582

15,928

60%

Wales

21,341

31,231

9,890

46%

Northern Ireland

13,697

21,059

7,362

53%

 

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