Working in Local Government: high value jobs with low reward
Today we published a report with Unison showing that people working in local government are far from the stereotypical overpaid bureaucrats. They are often the lowest paid and doing the most valuable jobs.
Our report looks in depth at the make up of the local government workforce. What is essential to bear in mind when thinking of the local government workforce is its distinctive make-up: over three-quarters are women and over half are part time, levels much higher than in the rest of the public sector and private sector.
Many jobs in local government are on the front line. Half of them are manual jobs. This proportion is the same as the private sector (and far higher than in the rest of the public sector).
These jobs may not require high level academic qualifications but are no less valuable. Over a fifth of local government workers are educational assistants – interacting with children and supporting teachers on a daily basis.
A smaller but significant proportion of the local government workforce (7%) are home carers or care assistants. Such a job requires not only the physical strength to lift, dress and wash a frail person but to do so leaving them with a degree of dignity and to offer emotional support. This may not require an academic qualification but skills that are no less valuable.
The report demonstrates that despite the key role that local government workers play in both the economy and society, pay levels do not reflect this. A quarter of part-time local government workers are paid less than £6.60 per hour which is much closer to the private sector equivalent of £6 than the public sector of £7.70. Pay levels for full time workers show a similar pattern. A quarter of the local government workforce earn less than the Living Wage.
The tendency for the public sector to recieve a pay increase that matched or bettered inflation has reversed. Since 2010, a pay freeze accompanied by high inflation has slashed the real value of earnings. Between April 2009 and February 2012 the real value of local government earnings has fallen by 13%. Typical full-time hourly earnings have now sunk back to the levels of the early 1990s and part-time earnings to back to 2002 levels.
The government have announced plans to mitigate this squeeze on the lowest piad p[ublic sector workers. The problem is they have not been enacted. In his first budget, George Osborne promised that public servants earnings less than £21,000 a year would receive a flat rate pay increase of £250 in each of the two years of the pay freeze. Uniquely among local government workers, that promise has not been honoured.
Continuing high inflation without a matching increase in pay will mean that local government earnings fall further still. If we continue to undervalue such important jobs we not only marginalise those doing them, we also compromise the services that they provide on which we all depend.