‘One paycheque away from homelessness’ – stories from picket lines on strike day

‘One paycheque away from homelessness’ – stories from picket lines on strike day

Workers on the picket lines have told of the struggles that have led to them joining the biggest strike in a decade, with one saying she is “one paycheque away from being homeless”.

Members of seven trade unions are taking industrial action, affecting schools, universities, trains and buses in the biggest strike in a decade.

Teachers on the picket lines have said they have been “left with no other real option” but to take part in the walkout, while university workers said their pay had been “eroded very substantially” over the past 10 years.

A cabinet office civil servant told the PA news agency she is “terrified every day” following a decade of real-terms cuts to civil service wages.

Ellie Clarke, 31, who spoke as a union representative at the PCS picket line outside the cabinet office, said: “It is really, really hard. I am terrified every day. I am always worried I am one crisis away from homelessness.

“I am just one paycheque away from being homeless. We shouldn’t be in this situation… we are working for the Government.

“We are just living in poverty. There is absolutely no chance we could go to the theatre or even just have some dinner with friends.”

Sydney Heighington, 33, who teaches at a school in east London, told PA no teacher “actually wants to strike”.

Mass UK strike action
Members of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union on the picket line outside the Department for Education (Aaron Chown/PA)

Giving his reasons for joining the walkout, he said: “I’ve been a teacher for over a decade, I’m an assistant headteacher now.

“There are so many reasons, and it goes beyond pay.

“The reality is, I don’t think you’ll find a teacher that actually wants to strike.

“This is our last resort, this is something that has taken a long time for us to gather the strength to do because we don’t ever want to take anything away from the children, because they are the most important thing to us – that’s why we do what we do.

“But we are left with no other real option.

“It’s almost like the Government’s saying each year we give our lives to the profession and everything that we do for the kids, we’re worth less.

“The job gets harder, more stress and strain is put on teachers and we barely get by on what we see for it.

“Teachers are tired, I’m tired, and we’re doing this because we need to have our system fixed and we need to have it funded.”

(PA Graphics)

James Hibbard, head of Year 10, and a geography and food technology teacher at Myton School, Warwick, said he was striking because he felt getting proper funding was “a real struggle”.

Speaking from the picket line outside the school, he told PA: “For my role as head of year, we’re always looking for funding to allow students to meet their full potential and it just doesn’t seem to be available at the moment.

“We’re struggling to get them the funding that they need really.

“Trying to get students with special educational needs, trying to get them education, health and care (EHC) plans, everything is being cut, funding just isn’t available.”

He added: “I think we’ll be back on the 28th.

“I’d like to think it will show to people there’s a little bit of disruption.

Mass UK strike action
Members of the National Education Union (NEU) on the picket line outside Myton School in Warwick (Jacob King/PA)

“That’s going to help people realise the struggle that we’re in but don’t necessarily think the Government will listen to that straight away.

“But I think they need to start thinking about the way funding streams work and how we can get a fully-funded education system.”

Howard Stevenson, a professor in education at the University of Nottingham and a UCU Officer, said staff were “really, really dissatisfied” with a number of issues but said employers had only engaged on “the most minor details”.

He said: “Alongside the pension issue, we also have concerns about pay because pay has been eroded very substantially, over the last 10 years in particular.

“Workloads are very high, pay gaps are a concern, across the sector they are very high and at the University of Nottingham and we have something like a 20% gender pay gap.

“This campaign is about tackling those issues, and in the higher education sector generally there is systemic misuse of precarious contracts, so many of our colleagues are on hourly paid contracts or fixed-term contracts, so there are very high levels of job insecurity.

“It makes life really difficult in terms of just planning basic things, but also has a really negative impact on quality of education, because those colleagues never know, from one moment to the next, what they’re going to be teaching.”