More than 40% of the UK’s school kitchen staff are in debt due to low pay, says UNISON

Four in 10 (41%) school kitchen staff are worried about their pay, with one in five (21%) earning the minimum wage, a new UNISON survey published today (Friday) has revealed.

The survey of more than 1,200 school catering employees found that four in ten (43%) say they are weighed down with debt (other than a mortgage). A quarter (25%) of the staff responding say they’ve had to take out loans from banks, credit unions or payday loan companies simply to make ends meet. One in five (21%) have had no choice but to borrow money from friends and family.

At the same time, almost half the respondents (46%) said that it’s impossible to do their jobs within their allocated hours. A third of kitchen staff (33%) regularly do between two and five hours of unpaid overtime every week to keep their school’s kitchens operational. Almost one in ten (9%) school catering staff regularly work five or more hours unpaid.

Stress also has a significant impact on the catering employees, with one in four saying they feel stressed all or most of the time. One fifth (20%) of kitchen staff say they’ve had to take on a second job to try to cover their monthly outgoings.

The lack of training and the feeling that kitchen staff aren’t seen as a valued part of the school team were also cited as issues that troubled them. One third (33%) say they’ve not received any training in the past year, and 35% of respondents felt excluded as a member of the school as a whole.

UNISON national officer for education and children’s services Ruth Levin said: “It’s disgraceful that some of the lowest paid employees in our education system are doing hours of unpaid overtime every week just to keep our school kitchens running and the nation’s school children fed.

“Many school kitchen staff said they were the main breadwinners for their families and have fallen into debt as the result of the freeze on their already low wages. As a country attempting to tackle the growing childhood obesity crisis, it’s imperative the government and head teachers place a greater value on their role in keeping children healthy.

“UNISON is calling on all employers to provide both fair pay and ample training to all school kitchen staff.”