HUNDREDS of nurses, carers and school cleaners in the North East are demanding emergency aid to pay for food and heating, union officials have revealed.
Figures released by Unison show that four times as many public sector workers are asking for handouts from the union compared to a year ago.
The requests for aid come as the number of people working in the public sector in the North East has shrunk by 28,000 with occupations traditionally filled by women taking the biggest hit.
Clare Williams, regional convener for Unison, said: “The region is particularly affected because of the high level of public sector employment.
“Proportionally it hits us harder and we also know that there isn’t the private sector jobs to replace public sector job losses so financial insecurity is increasing.
“Unison’s own charitable welfare fund is seeing an increase in applications from across the region. It might be to cover mortgage arrears or debt arrears. Our members are also having to use food banks and pay day loan lenders to try and cope.”
Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, said the number of people needing help in the North East as “heart-breaking”.
He said: “Never in all my years in the union have I seen so many members struggling so hard just to keep warm and to put food on the table.
“It has been a long hard winter this year and it is disgraceful – heating or eating should not have to be a choice in the UK in 2013.”
The union is now demanding a change to the three-year pay freeze to stimulate the local economy and put money back in workers’ pockets.
Figures released by GMB show that since the 2010 General Election reveals the number of employees in 12 local authorities in the North East fell from 129,700 in the first quarter of 2010 to 101,400 by the third quarter of 2012.
The fall in the number of employees at Gateshead Council is the highest for a local authority with a 45% drop in its workforce costing 5,882 jobs.
Durham has scrapped 4,760 jobs, Newcastle 3,674, North Tyneside 2,401, Sunderland 2,146, South Tyneside 1,886 and Northumberland 1,204 positions.
This decrease of 21.8% (28,300 jobs) is said to have affected women in the region the most.
Colin Smith, GMB senior organiser, said: “The services that are being reduced are predominantly services for the elderly, school services and cleaning. It’s safe to assume that the services affected employ predominantly female part-time workers so it will have a disproportionate effect on women’s employment.”
“Local authorities employ thousands of home care workers and during process’ of externalisation where a new company takes on management, hours are cut to reach profit angles. Inevitably this is a reduction in jobs.”