Friday, 17 April 2015


On the 20-22 April the STUC Congress will be meeting in Ayr. The theme of this year's Congress is Decent Work and Dignified Lives. In the run up to Congress this blog will host a series of articles prepared by STUC affiliated unions. These articles reflect the positions and priorities of our affiliates and are designed to give a flavour of the disparate work that the trade union movement is undertaking in pursuit of decent work and dignified lives

“Between 2009-10 and 2019-20, spending on public services, administration and grants by central government is projected to fall from 21.2 per cent to 12.6 per cent of GDP and from £5,650 to £3,880 per head in 2014-15 prices. Around 40 per cent of these cuts would have been delivered during this Parliament, with around 60 per cent to come during the next. The implied squeeze on local authority spending is similarly severe." [The Office for Budget Responsibility]

We should not underestimate the damage this will cause. We are living through massive cuts. In Scotland this translates to £6bn cuts from public spending by the end of the next parliament. It will mean the complete re-shaping of the public sector in Scotland and beyond.

We have seen 60,000 public sector job losses and we are only half way through. No sector has been left unscathed including the NHS, police, and colleges and universities. It is, however, local government who are the hardest hit with 4 out of 5 of the job losses.

None of the pain has been worth it. Osborne has failed to meet his deficit targets. Instead he has borrowed more than Labour ever did, entirely as a consequence of the failure of austerity economics. And not helped by the political choices made at Holyrood to freeze the Council Tax and subsidise business both of which have come at the expense of public services.

Pay freezes, low paid new jobs, low incomes of the involuntary self-employed are behind the apparently improving unemployment figures. This is the reason why tax revenues have not grown sufficiently, and public borrowing has increased despite savage public spending cuts.

The statistics speak for themselves. 8 in 10 of new jobs are low paid; 6 in 10 of children living in poverty have at least one parent working; 84,000 people in Scotland on zero hours contracts; 427,000 in Scotland people earning less than the living wage - just over 18% of the entire workforce, and an increase of around 32,000 on 2013; 69,000 people in Scotland earning the minimum wage or less – around three per-cent of the workforce.

UNISON’s response is our Public Works campaign. We are calling for a programme of public investment; in social care, public transport, housing, childcare and education - through labour market policies which ensure that the fall in workers share of national income in the past decade is reversed, and the recovery is wage - rather than debt - led.

Throughout the UK, wages have been stagnating in recent years, virtually static with inflation usually, and sometimes considerably higher. This has meant a significant drop in living standards for many, which effects demand on public services, for example, dropping wages mean one in eight Housing Benefit claimants in Scotland are now in work, but failing to earn enough to pay the rent.

In simple terms, if we work towards full employment, decent pay for women and men, equality, and sustainability, this will start to turn the economy around.

You only have to look at the top 10%, to see there is money. Executive pay averages about £440,000 per year - 16 times more than average pay. The big losers are at the bottom, the 'dog end voters in the outlying regions' as one Tory MP put it. Tory economic policies have been deliberately designed to shift money from the poorest to the richest. Not only do such policies cause social misery they make no economic sense

Public Works. It creates demand, builds infrastructure and protects us all. Although they do not like to admit it, the private sector rely directly on public sector contracts to keep afloat especially in hard times like these. Childcare and early years education supports women into work and helps children develop. The NHS keeps the workforce healthy and local government creates the environment where private business can flourish. Public services share risk and resources, they contribute to a balanced growing sustainable economy.

We need to remember that while the rich have the money the trade unions have the people. But this is only worth anything if we the people get out there to show there is a better way.

That’s why UNISON’s Public Works campaign for this General Election and beyond is recruiting 1000 influencers who will be taking these arguments into their workplaces, protecting public services and those who deliver them, one conversation at a time.

UNISON influencers will remind people to campaign and vote for public services. Not just for those working in them or just for those who use them. It is more than saving the NHS or ensuring safety nets. This is about how we fight austerity, build demand in the economy, bring equality and social justice and return to the sustainable economic growth – which will benefit us all.

Mike Kirby,
Scottish Secretary, 

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