Unions unite over London allowance

Teachers' leaders warn of more action if their members do not get extra compensation for living in the capital. Warwick Mansell reports

THE three largest teaching unions have united to press the Government for an immediate increase in cost-of-living allowances in London and the South-east.

The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers have joined the National Union of Teachers in the campaign for a rise in London weighting.

A one-day strike by the NUT in March failed to persuade ministers to increase the pound;3,105 allowance for the inner-city this year. The three unions want it to rise to pound;6,000, putting teachers on a par with police officers, by next April.

In the meantime, all three unions this week called on Education Secretary Estelle Morris to increase the allowance substantially, in time for teachers to see the benefits in their pay packets by September.

They want the School Teachers' Review Body to hold a special inquiry on the issue immediately.

The moves came as members of the three unions gathered in central London for a rally.

Although it has failed to move the Government, the NUT claimed the March action won them thousands of new members. General secretary Doug McAvoy and his NASUWT counterpart, Eamonn O'Kane, have warned of possible further action if the Government does not meet their demands. The ATL was more cautious.

But ministers this week said they had no immediate plans to increase the allowances. The review body warned in January that any big rise should be put off until major changes in local funding of education are introduced next year.

A Department for Education and Skills spokeswoman highlighted government moves to pay off student loans and give schools the freedom to pay recruitment and retention bonuses.

She added: "London allowances increased by almost 30 per cent last year, so a teacher who started work in London in 1997 has seen his or her pay go up 63 per cent."

The NUT released a pamphlet this week setting out the difficulties facing several teachers who were considering leaving London or the profession altogether.

One of them, Zoe Smallwood, 23, says she loves being a teacher after just six months in the profession. But she is resigned to leaving London because of the capital's high cost of living.

Miss Smallwood, a Year 5 teacher at Holy Trinity C of E primary, in Camden, has to spend pound;780 on rent, bills and paying off debts of pound;10,000, mainly from student days. She takes home pound;1,300 a month.

She said: "I cannot afford to stay in London and feel that I am being pushed out of a job I love."

Donal O'Hagan, 31, a teacher in a secondary school in Hampstead, is seeking a job overseas. He said: "I currently lodge with friends. To have all my possessions packed into a 12 by 12 space is morale sapping."

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