Churches Housing staff strike over salary caps

Emma Maier

One of the country's largest housing associations faced a one-day strike over a below-inflation pay offer which it blames on government funding cuts.

English Churches Housing, the country's sixth-biggest housing association, was only able to offer staff a 2 per cent pay increase following cuts to the Supporting People scheme, which funds two thirds of its employees.

The 530 unionised staff, a third of all workers, voted by 77.8 per cent in favour of strike action, claiming that the offer is below the cost of living.

"We want to pay a decent wage," said the association's chief executive Peter Walters. "But our Supporting People funding is falling. We will review the offer when we have analysed our half-year results."

The Government has decided to cut the £1.8bn Supporting People scheme, which is distributed by local authorities. It will be cut by £100m to £1.7bn by 2007. English Churches Housing is facing a 7.5 per cent cut in the £23m it receives from the scheme through 168 local authorities.

The strike, believed to be the first in 10 years, went ahead on Monday.

But Susan Littlemore, the charity's press and PR officer, claimed that support for the action was sporadic. She added that there were union assurances of minimum cover so that services were not unduly affected.

Paul Redgate, regional organiser for the Transport and General Workers Union, which represents staff, said: "The staff want their concerns to be taken seriously."

However, Walters condemned the move. "The action is, at best, premature, since we will be meeting on 29 October to discuss the offer in light of our half-year results."

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