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Knocked through a brick wall for pound;8.60 an hour

For 25 years Ann McCready has worked in Wirral, where affluence and deprivation lie cheek by jowl.

She began as a part-time non-qualified youth worker on pound;4 an hour.

Now qualified, in the past quarter-century her pay has risen to pound;8.60 - more than colleagues in Sunderland but, allowing for inflation, she's still far worse off.

She is a branch officer of the CYWU but she voted for a strike with a heavy heart. "It isn't easy," she said. "My husband is retired and I'm the sole earner."

Her husband, Larry, once a joiner at Camel Laird shipyard before he too trained as a youth worker, also went on strike. "Neighbours called him a dirty Commie," she said.

On pound;8.60 an hour, Ann has also suffered abuse. After some bother with youths in a leisure centre she was attacked by a man who "tried to put me through a brick wall".

Many youth and community workers wonder what they might be in for next. Ann was recently confronted again and had to call the community police to deal with some drunken teenagers.

"They'd refused to leave and I was threatened with having my face kicked in," she said.

Anne is paid for 18 hours a week, including two nights at the Greasby youth centre arranging activities. Recently, she had in 66 young people but just three staff - and two outreach sessions in which she goes out on the streets to wherever young people gather.

She is allowed three hours' preparation time but often works longer. "I do more hours than I'm paid for," she said. "But trying to get time off in lieu is very difficult - we have to keep the club open."

Keeping up with professional development can leave her out of pocket. She recently spent two days, unpaid, at a conference.

"But I feel most sorry for youth workers who are also one-parent families," she said. "They must be living hand-to-mouth."

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