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DAVID STEWART: We need improved pay and conditions for school support staff

By David Stewart

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Unison members of non-teaching staff were on strike on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
Unison members of non-teaching staff were on strike on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

With the backdrop of the strike action within our schools this week, I was reading an insightful report by a leading think-tank – The Resolution Foundation. They studied industrial action in the UK over the last 12 months.

The conclusions (and perhaps no surprises here) were that health, education, postal services and railways were responsible for over 90 per cent of all days lost to strike action since 2021.

However, The Resolution Foundation drilled down into the figures and asked the basic question: why do workers strike?

The main conclusion was the squeeze facing workers in take-home pay. There has been a four per cent reduction in real terms pay since 2021 across the board in all sectors.

However, the foundation calculated that for public sector workers, the reduction was over nine per cent and for health and social care, it was nearly 10 per cent.

This real-terms cut in wages contributed to substantial increases in job vacancies in health, education and public administration, which placed front-line staff under even more pressure in their day-to-day employment.

What shocked me reading the report was the scale of industrial action, which has not been witnessed for decades.

In fairness, there has been some movement towards resolution with nurses and teachers but still severe breakdown in communications between employers and junior doctors, rail workers and vital support staff at local schools.

As Nye Cominetti, senior economist at The Resolution Foundation, said: “Inflation-driven pay squeeze should also be understood as part of a broader pattern of poor pay growth across the public and private sectors.”

It is clear to me that we need improved pay and conditions for school support staff who are involved in a variety of tasks, from catering, cleaning, pupil support, administration and janitorial services. This will also tackle the problem of high vacancy levels.

However, the bigger picture is providing a coherent and rigorous macro-economic strategy to grow the economy and tackle inflation.

No one wants to return to the industrial upheaval of the winter of discontent of 1978/79, where refuse went uncollected and hospitals were blockaded, but surely a real living wage for hard-working frontline public sector workers is not beyond the reach of governments in London and Edinburgh?

What's the average life expectancy in Scotland?

Figures out this week show that average life expectancy in Scotland has dropped for the third year in a row. Average life expectancy at birth is now 76.5 years for males and 80.7 for females – the lowest of any UK nation.

Deprivation continues to play a key role in life expectancy. If you compare average male life expectancy in affluent with deprived areas, the results are staggering.

Take two men of the same age in neighbouring areas, one in the most deprived, the other in the most affluent. So, the Bearsden accountant would have a life expectancy of nearly 14 years more than the labourer from Easterhouse. The statistics from National Records of Scotland make grim reading.

Surely as a go-ahead developed nation, we must do better at improving life expectancy for men and women and eliminate the appalling class divide.

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