UK rail fare rise ‘will force key workers to quit city jobs’

Cost of commuting unfairly penalises public sector staff and part-time workers, warns union

Plans to hit rail commuters with the biggest fare rises in five years will force many key workers, including nurses and teaching assistants, to quit their jobs, the biggest public-sector union Unison warned on Saturday.

Anger at the 3.6% increase to regulated fares, including commuter fares and season tickets, spilled over last week after it was revealed that the rises would come into effect in January.

Transport groups protested at the growing cost of what many passengers regard as worsening services, while the industry claimed the rises were necessary to fund investment. Annual rises are based on retail prices index (RPI) figures for July, released by the Office for National Statistics.

Now there is mounting concern that public-sector workers, many of whom cannot afford to live in the large cities where they work because of the cost of buying and renting, will find they cannot pay the cost of commuting to their jobs either.

Unison’s head of health, Sara Gorton, said that housing costs, caps on public-sector pay and commuter fares have left many in a near-impossible position. “Wage freezes have penalised public-service employees who are struggling to keep up with rising costs, including housing. Increased rail fares will only make their situation worse,” she said.

“The concern is that staff including nurses, cleaners and teaching assistants will be driven away from jobs in some cities. Some are already telling us they’re planning to quit. The situation in rural areas isn’t much better. Public transport often isn’t available and workers are priced out by people moving in.”

With the NHS already facing a recruitment crisis for nurses, ministers are under intense pressure to drop the 1% cap on their pay increases, due to continue until 2020, as staff shortages bite.

Rail union members protesting outside King’s Cross station.
Rail union members protesting outside King’s Cross station. Photograph: Carl Court/Getty Images

There were also renewed calls this weekend to help part-time workers who commute to work. Stephen Joseph, chief executive at Campaign for Better Transport, said his organisation was being contacted by an increasing number of people who worked part-time – many of them working mothers – who could not understand why there were no season tickets tailored to their needs.

“We get bombarded with stories from people who work part-time but find it’s increasingly unaffordable to use the trains to commute to work,” Joseph said. “The current outdated structure of rail fares penalises them – they have to either buy a full-time season ticket or expensive peak day fares. Successive transport ministers have promised change; it was even in the Conservative 2015 election manifesto, but nothing seems to be happening.

“We think the latest high rises will tip some people over the edge into either not working, changing jobs or moving house. The government needs to get a grip on this and introduce the flexible tickets for part-time workers they have kept promising.”

Louise Shevlane, a mother of two from Rainham, Kent, who works three days a week for a charity in London, said working mothers were finding the economics of such jobs ever more testing. Travelling from Rainham to Cannon Street station in London costs her just under £400 a month, the same as it does for a five-day-a-week commuter.

“I have got so many friends in the same situation. I love my job but I think many people who earn less than I do will probably give up working because it simply is not worth it. It seems crazy that there is no season-ticket system for part-time workers. It is a problem that hits working mothers particularly, as so many work part-time.”

Rail unions staged protests last week at stations across the country, including ones in London, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol and Glasgow. The RMT union claims rail fares have risen by about 32% in eight years, while average weekly earnings have increased by 16%.


Toby Helm and Gwyn Topham

The GuardianTramp

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