THE BLOG

Workers Forced To Skip Meals To Make Ends Meet Can't Afford To Wait For Action

07/09/2017 11:07
Ben Birchall/PA Archive

If you work hard, you should be able to feed yourself and your family. In 21st Century Britain, that shouldn't be up for debate.

But a shocking new TUC/GQR poll shows that one in eight workers in this country are skipping meals to make ends meet. And 44% - almost half - are worried about meeting basic household expenses, such as food, transport and energy.

One in six have left the heating off when it was cold to save on energy bills and the same number have been forced to the pawnshop in the last year because they were short on money.

Asked how they would deal with an unexpected £500 bill, 24% of workers said they would simply not be able to pay. And of those who could cover it, 22% said they'd have to go into debt or sell something.

These numbers show us that working families are on a financial cliff edge.

Real wages have fallen in the ten years since the crash, but while pay packets are getting smaller prices and bills keep rising. As a result, working people are taking on more personal debt. Within the next five years, unsecured debt per household is set to hit record levels of over £15,000.

It doesn't have to be like this. Across Europe, real wages have risen since the crash. In fact, Britain has suffered a bigger fall in real wages than any other advanced country apart from Greece.

And the problem is getting worse: real wages have fallen every month for the last four months.

This comes down to political choices. The government is holding down working people's wages at the same time as giving tax breaks to big business.

Their inaction can't last. Ministers should take immediate steps to raise wages by scrapping the public sector pay restriction, which has denied a fair pay rise to our hardworking firefighters, teachers and NHS staff.

They can also invest to create get jobs around the country and increase the minimum wage so the poorest workers don't have to scramble simply to put food on the table.

Working people deserve this kind of investment from government, but it's not only a question of fairness - there's also a clear economic case for boosting wages.

As working people spend more and more on essentials like food and fuel, they have hardly anything left to feed into other sections of economy. In other words, the pay squeeze is dragging down growth.

Now, the government will respond to these findings by pointing to high employment rates. And of course, trade unions want great jobs for as many people as possible.

But a job isn't that much use if it doesn't provide you with a decent life, if you're still struggling to pay your shopping bill or heat your house. Our message is that it's possible to do both - to get employment and wages rising at the same time.

Theresa May is already wavering on the public sector pay restrictions. She knows that we can't go on like this and earlier this week Number 10 hinted that a policy shift is on the way.

But unfortunately, the government is still dragging its heels, offering vague promises and rumours of policy change. That's not good enough. Working people - especially those who'll be forced to skip dinner tonight - can't afford to wait.

Frances O'Grady is general secretary of the TUC

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