Homelessness charity Shelter staff on two-week strike say they ‘can’t afford their rent’

The Unite union said a 3% pay increase this year had left some of Shelter’s staff unable to pay their rent and very worried about the possibility of becoming homeless themselves.

Over 600 workers at the housing and homeless charity Shelter started an ‘unprecedented’ fortnight of strike action on Monday as part of a dispute over pay.

The Unite union said a 3% pay increase this year had left some of Shelter’s staff unable to pay their rent and very worried about the possibility of becoming homeless themselves.

The strike action started on Monday December 5 and will end on Friday December 16, coinciding with one of the busiest times of year for the charity.

Shelter said some of its services would be “temporarily impacted” during the strike, but added: “We are making every effort to continue to serve those in need of our help.”

Shelter staff at the picket line outside the Old Street headquarters. Credit: Unite at Shelter

Unite says the pay deal is a huge real terms pay cut of 11% with the true inflation rate (RPI) now standing at 14.2%.

Shelter said that this year it had given all staff a pay rise made up of a 3% consolidated increase and a one-off payment of £1,500.

But Unite believes the one-off payments would “leave pay rates at unacceptably low levels, and fail to take into account rampant inflation”.

The union said peace talks collapsed at the conciliation service Acas on Thursday December 1 after management refused to increase the pay offer for 2022, instead proposing a pay increase of 4% for 2023/24 with no further pay increase for staff until April 2024.

Unite said Shelter’s reserves last year stood at about £14.5m, substantially higher than its target reserves of £8.9m, and that it was “fully able to make a fair pay offer”.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “It is unforgivable that workers at Shelter find themselves actually being haunted by the prospect of being made homeless.

“Shelter has sufficient reserves to pay its hardworking and dedicated staff a decent par rise but it has chosen not to.

“Our members at Shelter will receive Unite’s complete and unyielding support in their fight for a better deal.”

The Shelter strike coincides with one of the busiest times of year for the charity

Commenting on the decision to go on strike, one member of Shelter’s staff said: “At the very base level, absolute bare minimum, those working for a housing charity shouldn’t be experiencing housing insecurity as a result of being unable to pay rent.”

Another added: “I’m a single parent. I’m now in overdraft every month. I go around switching my lights off. I have turned my boiler down.

“I get stressed when the kids’ school wants me to pay for another school trip.

“The best acknowledgement my employer can give me for all my hard work is decent pay.”

Tim Gutteridge, Shelter’s director of finance and strategy enablement, said: “Regrettably the cost of living crisis is impacting both our colleagues and operational costs, and we are doing everything we can to navigate these challenging economic times.

“Industrial action is not the outcome we wanted after months of talks with the union, but we fully respect people’s right to strike.”

Its ambition remains “trying to support colleagues through this difficult period while being able to deliver our frontline services and campaign work”.

Shelter locations affected by the strike action include its head office in Old Street, London.

Shelter said that anyone who needed urgent housing advice should visit its website to access its digital advice and services information.