Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/754/16225
Housing support - workers and service users under attack
Paul Kershaw, Chair, Unite branch LE1111
Support workers at One Housing Group in London are to ballot for industrial action against pay cuts of up to £8,000 a year for 250 workers. This forms part of a trend with employers squeezing pay. But workers are increasingly fighting back.
The growth of membership in branches like the Unite Housing Workers Branch (which organises One Housing Group) suggests that the mood is changing: people have had enough and are ready to act.
Some other support providers are lining up to cut pay. The national charity, Turning Point plans to sack 2,600 staff and re-employ them on lower pay. This would leave some workers £10,000 out of pocket. Turning Point's publicity states "We turn lives around"; if you work for them, it is in the wrong direction!
Unite is launching a campaign against the 'race to the bottom' in supported housing and social care. An online petition quickly collected over 45,000 names with many moving comments. Workers fear hardship and even homelessness as a result of cuts.
Pay cuts hit quality
A recent report by Homeless Link, an independent agency, highlights the way pay cuts hit service quality. It shows how local authorities and charities are losing experienced staff. This is putting 'crucial relationships' at risk and leading to poor-quality homelessness services.
These pay cuts are driven by anticipated government cuts which must be opposed. It is a scandal that Labour-controlled Derby is leading the way, threatening to cut its 'supporting people' funding for housing related support by over 80%. This is by far the biggest cut in the country and threatens to set an example for Tory 'easy councils' next year.
These cuts target the most vulnerable. The normally grey pages of Inside Housing magazine highlighted the impact on one service user observing: "For the likes of Mr Lee - who fears death or jail as a result of reduced support - the price is dear. But, like many councils across the country, Derby's councillors are calculating that it is one that may have to be paid."
Unite national officer, Sally Kosky commented: "Unite is bitterly disappointed by Derby council's decision. We argue that rather than going along with an approach which means destroying high quality services and undermining the salary and working conditions of employees, employers should join with us and responsible funders in agreeing basic standards."
One Housing's pay cuts are driven by their plans to grow by undercutting other providers.
Unite has negotiated an offer of a £800,000 pay rise for the workforce at another supported housing provider, St Mungo's. But One Housing Group has offered a £400,000 cut.
The One Housing department whose staff salaries are being cut actually made a £1.2 million surplus on its contracts in 2012. The chief executive's pay was increased by £13,000 last year to £176,000 a year.
One Housing has boasted that it can undercut NHS-provided mental health services by as much as 80%. Unite members, fearing they will not be able to pay their own rent or mortgages, believe they are making up the shortfall.
In The Socialist 27 February 2013:
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