Established 2005 Registered Charity No. 1110656

Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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Strike over service cuts

July 09 2014
Look Ahead staff protest redundancies, pay cuts and demotions (and senior staff pay rises)

Fierce competition over who gets to provide housing support in the London Borough of Hackney is leading the staff of one charity to go on strike.

All of the 40 staff who were balloted on industrial action voted in favour of a walk-out after plans were revealed to make half of all support workers redundant and demote most to support assistants, cutting pay by 14 per cent. Look Ahead, which provides support for marginalised people including those who are homeless or sleeping rough, have mental health issues or learning disabilities, is proposing the drastic cut in staff numbers just two years after previous cuts.

The housing organisation, which employs more than 1,000 staff, said it had been asked to make efficiency savings of 14 per cent of the contract’s value, on a joint contract issued by East London NHS Foundation Trust and Hackney Council that runs until March 2016.

Insiders say Hackney is a very competitive borough for the kind of services Look Ahead provides, with Family Mosaic picking up a number of contracts there.

However, unions point out that the charity has large annual surpluses due to its practice of putting 10 per cent of income aside for "central overheads and contingency", as well as year-on-year growth in turnover.

Senior management have also received significant pay rises: the top earner for 2012/13 received £220–230k, compared with £160–170k in 11/12. The proposed cuts would see the number of support workers cut from 23 to 11.5, with others offered “Assistant Support Worker” paid at £3k less.

Staff claim they are already stretched to the limit and fear their clients' needs will force them to continue the same role on less pay.

Regional officer Peter Storey, told The Pavement: “Staff are angry about the way the organisation creams off large amounts for their head office whilst the front line is starved of resources to the point the service cannot meet the needs of clients.

“Our members want to work in a properly resourced, safe environment and are unable to afford any further wage cut.

Look Ahead did not respond to The Pavement’s request for a comment, but Chris Hampson, deputy chief executive of Look Ahead, told Third Sector: "Our staff and their representatives at Unite have put forward a number of proposals to mitigate the impact of these cuts and we are currently considering these.”