In view of the recent proposals by some local authorities to privatise the police, I thought it a good time to describe my own current experience in a privatised sector of education - supply teaching.
I retired from full time teaching in July, and, like many other retired teachers, set out to supplement my pension by doing supply work. Now, as it happens, I was a supply teacher twelve years ago, before I took up my last permanent post. At that time, in 2000, I was working as a local education authority (LEA) supply teacher, and received, after stoppages, about £110 a day. Now, after stoppages, I receive just £70 a day. By my reckoning, this amounts to a 44% drop in take-home wages over 12 years.
This is happening for two reasons. One is that I am still paying 40% income tax on my earnings, as I was when I was teaching full time. After April, I shall be on a lower tax band. Nevertheless, what I receive then will still be substantially less than my earnings back in 2000.
Lest I be accused of self-pity, let me say that I am well aware that there are many people worse off than I am. My heart goes out to my colleagues who have worked supply for years and seen their living standards drop - and their work dry up because of the cuts. I also know that there are hundreds of thousands of unemployed people who would happily take any job that paid them £70 a day. But this is not the point I wish to make.
Supply teacher pay has dropped because of one main reason - privatisation. Over the past decade, the supply teaching sector has been taken over by Supply agencies, who run their businesses for a profit. They make their profits by taking a cut from the daily pay of every employed supply teacher. That is why supply pay has fallen so much since 2000. The agencies compete with each other by offering their staff to schools at different daily rates of pay. As schools manage their own budgets, they tend to hire the cheapest supply teachers possible, which, in turn, adversely affects supply teachers' pay and conditions. Probably the worst off supply teachers are those who take on long-term supply posts in schools. This means they have the same workload as a permanent teacher, but with less pay and inferior working conditions (such as no sick pay). This can only be described as "cheap labour", and is only of benefit to younger teachers who are seeking permanent posts. Oh, and of course, the benefits it brings in supply agency profits and a reduced wage bill for schools.
So - what can we all learn from this? Well, it's pretty clear that privatisation does not work in favour of the workforce - any workforce. And that, I admit, is an understatement. Public sector workers, who are facing a third year of a pay freeze, would do well to be vigilant about their terms and conditions. This government of ours, with its strong monetarist leanings, is obviously out to attack all state services and their employees and replace them with private companies, underpaid labour and insecure working conditions. As I hope I have shown, the writing is on the wall.