Friday, August 04, 2006

Key workers and property

I am a little late on this, owing to extreme partying (which is a bit like extreme ironing but with fewer heavy implements and more rumpled clothes), but it drove me up the wall when reported in The Herald. Unfortunately, since everything disappears behind a pay wall, I shall have to reference The Scotsman on key workers and housing.
NURSES, teachers and firefighters cannot afford to buy homes in 40 per cent of Scotland's towns, according to a report which reveals the worsening shortage of affordable housing for key public sector workers.

Ambulance staff are priced out of 94 per cent of towns while nurses cannot afford to live in 79 per cent of places, the study found.

Nurses in Edinburgh must now pay seven and a half times their salary to buy a house, while teachers must pay six times their income.

Well, of course this is very tragic but precisely how vital to human survival, on a scale of 1 (it's not) to 10 (water), is being able to buy a property? I would suggest that it might well be desirable, but no one is going to die is they cannot afford to buy.
Jacqui Watt, the chief executive of the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations, said: "We're not surprised by these figures, and the problem is getting worse, not better. There has been a lack of long-term investment in affordable housing supply in Scotland, together with problems like local planning restrictions and social housing stock being sold off under the Right to Buy scheme.

"We intend to make this a huge political issue in the run-up to the elections next year. We will be pushing all the political parties to come forward with far-reaching proposals on how they are going to provide the affordable homes that people need."

Want, yes, but need? No.
Martin Ellis, chief economist at Bank of Scotland, said: "Key workers have been hard hit by the strength of the property market over the past five years.

"It is important that the government continues to develop schemes to help key workers on to the property ladder and to ensure that these schemes are not confined to southern England. The presence of sufficient key workers is critical to the smooth functioning of life in our cities and towns."

Right, it is important that the "government continues to develop schemes" is it? So, as well as paying these public sector workers, and paying for their utterly unaffordable final salary pensions (which the majority of private sector workers cannot get) now we taxpayers are expected to pay for them to buy as well? What the fuck is going on?

Further, why is so much credence being given to a man who works for a bank which has a vested interest in getting as many people paying mortgages as possible?

Public sector pay is now higher, on average, than private sector; their pension deal is far better and now we are expected to help them buy a house? Where the fuck is the help for private sector workers? The Herald reported that the average nurse earns just over £24,000 a year; this is approximately £5,000 more than my highest salaried job; so, can I expect a bunch of highly salaried do-gooders to advocate that the government should give me back some of my money so that I can afford to buy a home?

Can I fuck.

Might I suggest the following? We should abolish the final salary pensions of public workers and exchange it for higher pay at the beginning of their careers. I would suggest that, if there really is a shortage of key workers, that an immediately higher salary would tempt far more people into these jobs (especially if they have debts to pay off). They could then pay their own mortgages and pensions as the rest of us have to do.

Although, actually, we don't really have a shortage of key workers; we do have a shortage of decent management and resource allocation but that is because the people that the public sector hire generally have no penalties for being shit. There are increasing numbers of nurses unable to find jobs because of the cuts that have had to be made; the fire services have too many applicants, always (oh, and work part-time for an extremely generous salary and are allowed to have a second job).

That's really unfortunate but—hey!—welcome to the world, people. Now, where are my benefits?


Anonymous said...

"There are increasing numbers of nurses unable to find jobs because of the cuts that have had to be made..."

Bollox. There are increasing numbers of nurses (esp. newly qualified) unable to find jobs because of piss-poor PFI schemes and shite management (including the use of cherry-picking independent-sector "fast-track" treatment centres - who are paid over-the-odds, regardless of what they actually do - largely because of the Gov's skewed comparators). All this is at the expense of frontline services (see Dr Crippen go slowly mad) which certainly *do not* need to be cut back. Especially if treatment is being shifted towards the community and existing hospital capacity is to be used in a more "acute" fashion.

"...can I expect a bunch of highly salaried do-gooders..."

Fuck off. I earn nothing like the kind of figures you quote. The majority of my "private sector friends" don't care much for doing this kind of work. Infact, the investment bankers among them piss themselves with fear at the very thought of it. Given the inevitable decline of final salary schemes, I agree with you about salaries. Especially in the south-east (but see also, the south-east's "second home" - i.e. the south-west).

Besides, if all the (excellent) Filipina etc staff nurses left tomorrow, there will be very few people left on the ground who know what the fuck they are doing. But that's the global labour market for ya.

A Nurse.

Devil's Kitchen said...

A Nurse,

Sure, although that does rather make a mockery of those who work in private hospitals, medical centres and care homes in the country (as I did for an hourly rate of £4 some years ago. See my previous posts).

I agree that PFI is a disaster, combining, as it does, the very worst parts of both public and private management, motives organisation and finance. It is a lunatic system, but it is the stupidity of those in the NHS and Civil Service who have screwed up the most, negotiating ludicrous contracts with newly-formed and inexperienced private companies (yes, who are, of course, motivated by profits).

The good Doctor Crippen knows this as well as anyone; watch the good Doctor skew ever more heavily to the small-government thinking (although I suppose some might define that as going mad!).

But you still haven't explained why my money should go towards subsidising public sector workers' purchase of something that is not necessary when there are many in the private sector who earn less (yes, they do) and for whom no one is proposing something similar. Can you perhaps enlighten me?


Anonymous said...


The "help" on offer is a lot more limited than you might believe. Besides, any theoretical Gov schemes will amount to pish all in the face of the current property market/insanity. As tapayers, we subsidise "London weighting" etc as part of paid salaries. Personally, I don't have much of a problem with that. I (broadly) agree with you, in that plenty of other hard-working-low-earning peeps have just as bad a time of it - although the job of Sister/Charge Nurse in a London Accident & Emergency Unit is tougher than most, I'd say (but then I would say that...). You could tie yourself in knots about how much such personnel are "worth" in pure market terms. That's not holier-than-thou grandstanding - the *global shortage of experienced senior nursing staff is very, very real. One irony of the public/private slagging match is that - as you kind of allude to - one is talking about the same (i.e. limited) workforce.

(As an aside: sure, nobody "needs" private property - I'm pretty much resigned to renting forever. But that doesn't make the sight of crappy, souless, overpriced "dockside living" apartments any easier to bear. Not because I'm an unreconstructed Marxist - but because it's making my beloved city look shit).

Anonymous said...

p.s. re: the despairing Dr Crippen & "Small Government" thinking. Actually, most of us at the coalface would very much like the overbearing Mad Patsy "winds of eternal change" Hewitt-less to feck off and let us get on with our work. What angers nurses is the asset stripping of public infrastructure (the actually pretty good NHS Logistics the most recent to be hived off, at dubious value to the taxpayers; PFI ad nauseum; crude market dogma taking precedence over emergency clinical decisions etc etc) and being accused of being "lazy and inefficient" by fucking Daily Mail journalists who wouldn't know what to do with a bedpan if their life depended on it.

Tim Newman said...

What should happen is nurses and teachers in Edinburgh get paid a rate suitable for the local market conditions, i.e. more in Edinburgh than in some village in the Grampians. This is what happens in the private sector, and can be seen by comparing the salaries on offer in London and Cardiff for the same position: the London salary is higher to compensate for the increased living costs.

Problem is, the fuckwits in the Unions insist on collective pay bargaining agreements whereby everyone gets paid similar amounts regardless of where they work. The result? Teachers and nurses in cheap areas do quite well, whereas those in expensive areas - like Edinburgh - struggle.

Devil's Kitchen said...


Precisely. Burn the Unions and privatise -- properly -- the lot...


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