The UNISON New Year begins in spring, with AGM season offering an opportunity to reflect on the previous year. But in many ways, any break is artificial. Many of the battles, concerns and issues that our union holds are long standing; in many places, such as Hampshire Health branch, work begun in 2016 will continue into 2017 and beyond. This the case with supporting local food banks in recognition of the devastating effect of poverty pay on public sector workers. Almost 1 in 4 referrals to food banks are due to low income. Following on from a Christmas donation, the branch took the opportunity to use the AGM as a way to continue to discuss issues with meeting the cost of living.
The cost of basics like food and energy have risen much higher than wage increases in the past decade. Food banks are having to support working people now, something unheard of before this government bought in the austerity measures instead of going after the fat cat tax evaders. Our staff deserve a wage that supports them without having to resort to extra jobs and food banks. It’s humiliating and exhausting.
The Tressell Trust has a network of 400 food banks in the UK and provides emergency 3 day packages to ordinary people in crisis. The charity also provides revealing statistics around how many packages are delivered, which the branch used as part of a free sweepstake to highlight how food bank use had grown since April – September 2012 and to continue discussions around low pay. Attendees were asked to guess the correct figure, with the closest guess winning a token prize.
The branch was told of the increase in numbers of emergency food parcels which in the South East rose to almost 45,500. Some of our low paid members use the Food banks which is a disgrace. No one should run out of money to feed themselves or their families.
The next round of NHS pay negotiations is currently on-going, with UNISON submitting evidence to the pay review body late last year. UNISON is calling for a pay rise of at least £1 an hour following years of below inflation pay rises. Research undertaken by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) has demonstrated the effect of this on emergency service workers, highlighting real pay cuts of £3,300 since 2011.