On September 3 Dorset Council had an opportunity to address the crisis of poverty wages and declining social mobility that blights our county. Instead, the majority party decided to reward a group of councillors with “special responsibility allowances” of £10,000 a year at an additional £60,000 cost to Council Tax payers. This is on top of the £13,000 a year already paid to councillors, with those in senior positions paid considerably more.

This decision will provoke disillusion and anger among the many Dorset people in ill-paid and insecure jobs – and those threatened with redundancy as a result of the Covid pandemic.

Dorset’s Low Pay, No Way campaign has been pressing the Council to set an example to all employers by paying its workers the Real Living Wage (£9.30 an hour) and encouraging others to follow suit. At the Council’s Annual Meeting, we asked: “Why is DC directing funds to its senior members while thousands of Council workers and others struggle to make ends meet?” We did not receive a meaningful reply.

Is appointment to a senior Council position now just a job, rather than an opportunity to serve the community? The large allowances on offer look remarkably like wages, with sums involved greatly exceeding many incomes in areas such as South Dorset. What message is the Council sending to workers in areas such as Weymouth and Portland, where almost half of all jobs are paid at or below the Real Living Wage?

One councillor at the meeting pleaded that he would be unable to feed his family without the benefit of a £10,000 increase. Meanwhile, 51,000 furloughed workers in Dorset face the end of the government’s Job Retention Scheme, with many jobs under threat. 

Dorset Council had an opportunity to mark the Annual Meeting with a decision to introduce the Real Living Wage for its own workers and those employed by its contractors. Instead, the majority of councillors opted to spend tens of thousands of pounds on themselves. Credit at least to those Council members who opposed increasing the “allowances” at a time when so many families in Dorset are struggling to make ends meet.

Low Pay – No Way works with Dorset Trades Union Council and Weymouth & Portland Action on Wages for fair wages and conditions in Dorset.

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