Front line workers walk out over pensions as ‘terrifying’ figures revealed
Housing staff strike as 700,000 face job loss
Social landlords across the UK battled to keep crucial services open during the national public sector strike over pension changes.
Thousands of housing staff took industrial action on Wednesday in protest against government plans to force public sector workers to pay more into their pensions and retire later.
Chancellor George Osborne fanned the flames just 24 hours earlier in his autumn statement when he announced a public sector pay rise cap of 1 per cent for two years, following a two-year pay freeze. The Office for Budget Responsibility also revealed the forecast number of public sector job losses over the next five years had more than doubled to 700,000.
The Chartered Institute of Housing branded the figure ‘terrifying’ and warned it posed ‘a huge risk that skills and capacity will be lost’ in housing.
In a spot survey, 40 social landlords across the UK told Inside Housing the strikes forced them to close some or all of their housing offices.
The proportion of staff on strike varied significantly in different parts of the country, from 2.5 per cent of housing staff at 6,235-employee Wandsworth Council in London, to nearly 95 per cent at arm’s-length management organisation Your Homes Newcastle.
Many authorities, including Liverpool and Leeds councils, were able to negotiate exemptions with unions to protect services for vulnerable people - and landlords were generally successful in maintaining emergency repairs services.
John Lee, chief executive at Your Homes Newcastle which manages around 29,000 tenanted and 1,500 leasehold homes, said around 900 of his 950 staff walked out, and all but one of the ALMO’s offices closed. He said enough staff were in work to run emergency repair services.
Birmingham Council, the UK’s largest council landlord, had around 30 per cent of its 1,500 housing staff on strike, but the council was able to protect services for vulnerable people. John Lines, cabinet member for housing, said: ‘The number is disappointingly high. A proportion has been misled by union militants.’
John Gray, branch secretary for Unison’s housing association branch, said: ‘I’m absolutely certain care workers and customer services assistants will leave the [local government pension] scheme and the scheme will collapse.’
He added: ‘What George Osborne said [in the autumn statement] was horrendous. To only give a 1 per cent pay rise on top of two years of pay freezes is appalling.’
A housing officer at 34,000-home Lambeth Living, who did not wish to be named, said: ‘The government is punishing the worst off - I don’t know what I’m going to do if my pension contribution goes up by £100 a month.’
Housing staff at picket lines at the offices of Homes for Islington and homeless charity Thames Reach, said they were concerned their jobs were getting harder but their pay was not improving.
In numbers: government cuts begin to bite
forecast benefit bill increase by 2016
estimated public sector jobs lost by 2016
estimated number of striking housing workers in Birmingham on Tuesday
95 per cent
proportion of Your Homes Newcastle staff on strike
1 per cent
public sector pay rise cap
0.7 per cent
revised forecast for growth next year