As Unite is mobilising like never before for the TUC’s cost of living march on Saturday (June 18), UniteLive speaks to bank workers who, just like all of us, are struggling to keep up with the rising cost of everything.
Unite rep and bank worker Sarah* says she and her colleagues have never been so stressed.
“Everyone is working all the overtime they can get just to keep up with the rising cost of living,” she said. “We really haven’t got a choice because pay isn’t going up. Everything – shopping bills, utilities bills, petrol – it’s killing us.”
Sarah highlighted how her shopping bill has “literally doubled” in recent months.
“Before you could go to the shop and spend £40 or £50 and you’d bring home quite a bit, but now that doesn’t go far at all,” she said. “I’m having to really think about how I spend my money.”
Sarah added that the cost of living crisis has taken a big hit on her social life.
“I can’t go out the way I used to and I haven’t bought any new clothes in over a year,” she explained. “I’ve had to start selling some of my things on Vinted and eBay – in some ways I see that as a positive thing, but it just shows what we’re being forced to do to keep on top of our household budget. It’s a lot of work and a lot of stress.”
Unite finance sector chair Phil Jones said that bank workers across the UK, many of whom are low-paid, are likewise struggling.
“You may read in the press about bankers getting record bonuses, but people don’t realise that there’s a big difference between bankers and bank workers – the ordinary people on the frontline of the job, people who work in bank branches and call centres for example,” he said.
“The starting salary for some of these jobs is just over £20,000 – especially at a time like this, wages that low don’t go very far at all. We have members who are on benefits. This is outrageous when you think about the obscene profits these banks make.”
Phil said that like Sarah he’s been shocked by increases in prices, especially the cost of food and petrol.
“I used to be able to fill my car for around £50 only a few months ago, now it’s more than £100. Even little things like a packet of biscuits used to cost 70p just six months ago and now it’s doubled.”
Both Sarah and Phil said they were furious when the Bank of England governor Andrew Bailey, and most recently prime minister Boris Johnson, said workers shouldn’t ask for pay rises because it may make inflation worse.
“I don’t sit in a glass office,” Sarah said. “I’m on the frontline, working in a branch dealing with the real public. I’ve got people coming in who are desperate and can’t afford to go home after the appointment; I’ve got people coming in with dementia. We have to deal with this sort of thing every day. We work damn hard and contrary to what many think, we don’t earn much.
“What we’re asking for – just that our pay keeps up with inflation – isn’t much at all, especially considering how much profits the banks make.”
Phil slammed false claims that giving ordinary workers pay rises will harm the economy.
“If you give someone who is earning £20,000 a year a decent pay rise, that’s money that they’re going to spend in their communities and that will benefit the economy as a whole. When you give a tax cut to a billionaire, that money isn’t going anywhere – they’re just going to sit on it and that’s what harms the wider economy.”
Unite members are tackling the cost of living crisis by fighting back in the workplace like never before to secure better pay. In the finance sector, thanks to a recent Unite campaign, members working for Lloyds Banking Group secured in June a £1000 cost of living pay bonus for staff.
Phil noted that Unite members in workplaces in the finance sector are continuing to negotiate and demand better pay for staff, just as the union is doing across all sectors.
But beyond its vital work in individual workplaces, Unite is hoping to send a loud and clear message at Saturday’s TUC cost of living march to both government and employers that all workers deserve better. That’s why Unite is urging everyone to attend.
Sarah told UniteLive she has never been on a march before, and she can’t wait to join the thousands of other Unite members who will also be attending.
“I’m really excited,” she said. “I’ve been a rep for six years and my members really matter to me so I want to play my part supporting them and the wider community. I just feel we need to make a lot of noise about the current situation – this cost of living crisis has literally affected everybody. We need to talk about it, and not be afraid to talk about it.”
Sarah said she especially urged those who, like her, have never attended a march before to come out and make their voices heard.
“This is how I see it – I used to watch football on the TV and I thought, ‘This is rubbish!’ But then I went to an actual match and I tell you – it’s a totally different experience. Just having that collective presence and making sure your voice is physically heard – it’s what will make all the difference on Saturday.”
“When they speak about the cost of living crisis, they make it sound like it’s nobody’s fault. But it is – it’s the government’s fault. If they had taken different approaches with different policies, we wouldn’t be in the position that we are today.
“That’s why we absolutely need to send a loud and clear message that we aren’t going to put up with this situation anymore. We need to have proper, living wages across the board for everybody. The more people who come out on Saturday the louder that message will be.”
As you’ve heard from your fellow members, don’t miss out on this vital opportunity to ensure your voice is heard. Unite members and their families can book FREE Unite transport from all our regions to the TUC’s cost of living demonstration this Saturday, June 18. You can find out more here.
*Name changed to protect privacy
By Hajera Blagg