Employment conditions warning for voluntary sector staff

Pressure to cut costs has eroded pay, pensions and protection, research by the University of Strathclyde shows

University of Strathclyde report
University of Strathclyde report

Voluntary sector staff are "in danger of being dragged to the bottom of the heap of vulnerable workers in the UK", according to an academic.

Dr Ian Cunningham, a reader at the University of Strathclyde, aired his concerns after conducting research into pay scales and conditions of service among charities providing social care in Scotland.

He found that voluntary organisations provided more than a third of Scotland’s publicly funded care services, but "intense and sustained pressure to cut costs" meant very few staff still enjoyed employment terms similar to those in the public sector.

Cunningham said he believed the conclusions reflected what was happening to many service-providing charities in the UK.

"Years of calls for efficiencies and, more recently, recession and public expenditure cuts, have led to a hollowing-out of employment conditions within voluntary organisations," he said.

"Future cuts threaten to exacerbate these problems with workers in the sector who face redundancy, pay freezes or cuts, loss of pensions and sickness benefits.

"In their efforts to make savings to the public purse, public sector funders may be undermining some of the very qualities that attracted them to the sector as providers of public services – a skilled and committed workforce."

The report, Employment Conditions in the Scottish Social Care Voluntary Sector: Impact of Public Funding Constraints in the Context of Economic Recession, was commissioned by the Voluntary Sector Social Services Workforce Unit, which closed at the end of March after its Scottish government funding expired.

It is based on surveys of 71 voluntary organisations that together employ 21,500 staff on social services in Scotland.

Cunningham found that many voluntary sector care organisations used to provide similar employment terms to public bodies, but in the past three years:

- 79 per cent have been unable to award a cost of living rise to staff equivalent to the increases paid to public sector workers;

- 57 per cent have implemented pay freezes;

- and only 15 per cent retained any link with public sector pension arrangements.

Annie Gunner Logan, director of the Coalition of Care and Support Providers in Scotland, which hosted the Voluntary Sector Social Services Workforce Unit, said cuts did not "take account of the consistently higher quality of care and support" the voluntary sector provided.

Dave Moxham, deputy general secretary of the Scottish TUC, said it "recognised and echoed" the concerns.

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