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Easy options are not the answer

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As the months go by the unemployment figures keep rising and dedicated local government workers are among those paying the price for failed economic policies.

Unison’s latest survey of councils under the Freedom of Information Act shows that more than 30,000 jobs were lost in 2010-11. This is in addition to the tens of thousands of jobs lost and posts frozen before 2010.

Three-quarters of local government workers are women - so it’s also a direct hit on equality.

Administrators have been hit hardest - with more than 3,500 losing their jobs and nearly 1,000 taking voluntary early retirement. The so-called back office is often seen as a soft target for cuts, but job losses among support staff will have a negative effect on services.

Take the example of social work: as admin support disappears, the pressure on social workers skyrockets. Instead of being out in their communities, supporting those who depend on them, they are at their desks filling in forms.

So-called frontline workers are also losing their jobs. Hundreds of teaching assistants, youth workers, cleaners and more than a thousand adult care workers lost their jobs in the 2010-11 round.

These job losses are the tip of the iceberg. According to Office of National Statistics data, during the second quarter of 2011 alone, 57,000 local government jobs were lost.

With cuts hitting hard through 2011-12 and onwards during this Parliament, the damaging effect of lost jobs and services will increase. For those left behind, two years of frozen wages have taken their toll and morale is at rock bottom.

Thanks to the government’s unnecessarily hard and fast cuts, councils are in a difficult position - but they have choices. Last year millions were ploughed into unallocated reserves while a dedicated workforce was punished with job losses, pay freezes and an increase in unpaid overtime.

Such choices are hard to defend. We will be keeping up our national campaign for a plan B for jobs and growth. We will also be holding councils to account at a local level to ensure they do not do what is easy, but what is right for the communities they serve.

Heather Wakefield is Unison’s national secretary for local government

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