UNION leaders are preparing for a strike ballot as officials in Bolton warn of a ‘cost of living crisis’ prompted by soaring inflation.

Unison, the public services trade union, is preparing for an industrial ballot of members working at schools and across local councils in England, Northern Ireland and Wales in a dispute over pay. In December members will be asked to vote on industrial action.

This comes as the Office of National Statistics (ONS) says inflation has risen about four per cent, its highest level for more than 10 years.

One Bolton Council social care worker, Christine Collins, said many in the public service sector are struggling.

She added: “Across social care, I know workers are really struggling.

“Many workers are low-paid women who keep seeing their pay frozen year in year out, yet basic living costs are going through the roof.

“Lots of social care workers have partners who have lost jobs over the past year-and-a-half. Some people are really struggling to put food on the table and keep a roof over their head.

“Electricity and gas bills have shot up and up. Petrol is up by nearly 18 per cent. House prices and rents are rocketing too.”

Care workers and the low paid were now relying on foodbanks, she added, or falling prey to loan sharks.

Unison recently rejected a 1.75 per cent pay rise offer for council staff from the government, or 2.75pc for those on the lowest pay point, which has led to the ballot.

In a recent consultation exercise, 79 per cent of Unison members responded, voting to reject the current pay offer and move to an industrial action ballot.

Jayne Clarke, assistant branch secretary of Bolton Unison said: “Its shocking to see basic living costs going through the roof. Council and schools workers have worked really hard throughout the pandemic of the past 20 months.

Andrea Egan, Bolton Unison branch secretary and joint vice president of Unison nationally added: “According to the Retail Price Index inflation has been estimated at 4.8 per cent. Over the past year basic living costs have increased dramatically.

“This always hits the lowest paid workers hardest. Since 2010 the value of council and school workers’ pay has fallen by a staggering 25 per cent.

“We have appealed to the Local Government Employers and we have appealed to the government to ensure councils get the funding they need.”

She confirmed Bolton Unison would be recommending a vote for strike action.