At a rally of St. Mungo’s workers on Tuesday of last week picture: Guy Smallman

Cornelia, a homelessness outreach worker in central London, has been served an eviction notice because she can’t afford to live on the wages the St Mungo’s charity pays her. “We are all struggling,” she told Socialist Worker.

“Now I’m struggling with homelessness too. “I’ve been served a section 21 notice because of my salary. My rent is £1,400 a month, but I get just £1,900.” Cornelia’s local council has said there are no houses available for her. “I don’t know what I’m going to do,” she said. “We want to help others, but it’s really hard.” “It’s not just happening to our clients. It’s happening to us too. We need that pay rise,” she added. 

Now, workers are fighting back. Over 700 Unite union members at St Mungo’s across London, Oxford, Brighton, Bristol and Bournemouth began a four-week strike last Tuesday.  They are battling for better pay and against the corporatisation of the charity sector.

St.Mungo’s workers are hitting back at bosses who offered them a 1.75 percent pay rise for 2021-22 — the same as other public sector workers.  Bosses at the charity topped this up with a £700 one-off payment.

In the run-up to the strike, initially scheduled for the end of April, bosses offered just 2.25 percent for 2022-23, despite the strike being over the previous year’s pay. Workers rejected the offer with over 90 percent of them voting for strikes.

In her role Cornelia helps homeless people on the street, often with drug and alcohol dependency. 

She deals with casework to help with health problems, benefits, immigration, issues and more. “It’s a huge volume of work. When I started there were three of us. Now there’s just me,” she explained. “I sometimes leave home at 3am to get in, and I won’t finish until 8pm.

“I have 25 clients—it’s too much. Some of my clients have critical needs and need a lot of my time.  “And when I’m home at the weekends I can’t switch my phone off, not if I’m waiting for a call about a client.”

An occupational health worker, which St Mungo’s recommended, said that Cornelia should have one-to-one  therapy to help deal with stress from her job. But bosses told her that this would be too expensive.

“But what about the one-to-one time I give to my clients most in need—how much would that cost if they hired someone to give that? I speak five languages and have a lot of skills, and yet I’m struggling desperately,” she said. “On the picket lines I’ve met colleagues who are also facing homelessness. “We cried and hugged, and that made me feel less alone.

“Solidarity gives us hope. There are nurses and teachers using foodbanks, yet the Tories are trying to take their right to strike away—the only thing we have to fight back.” That’s why Cornelia has been working hard with others to get colleagues onto the picket lines.

“We try to convince people to come with us to understand the importance of striking,” she said. “We’ve convinced some of them. It will be hard next month because we will have less money, but it’s important to win, and we’re determined we will.” Eivinas is a project worker in London and Unite rep who has also been trying to stop people from crossing the picket line. 

“I see how our members are struggling, and speaking to some people about the hardships they’re going through hardens you,” he told Socialist Worker. “Initially I was nervous to have the chats on the picket, but this fight has focussed me. 

“The union has about 50 percent membership now. We have to explain to those going in that doing this undermines our cause. Striking has made me hopeful—it’s given me a sense of control and the power to do something about things like climate change and the cost of living crisis that politicians aren’t dealing with.”

St Mungo’s is heavily relying on agency staff to scab on the strike, or managers stepping in. But there’s not enough cover to fill the gaps left by the strikers who take on the crucial frontline work the charity offers.

And in some contracts with local councils, there’s a minimum staffing requirement to ensure health and safety levels aren’t breached, especially in the hostels it runs.  That’s why the strikers are holding carnival-like pickets and rallies outside local councils to pressure  St Mungo’s.

“We’ve had so much support,” Eivinas explained. At the first rally last Tuesday at the headquarters in Thomas More Square in east London, the strikers were joined by Jeremy Corbyn. 

And outside Hackney town hall in east London last Thursday, workers from the NEU, Unison and Aslef unions showed solidarity. Eivinas added, “Members are energised. 

“It’s great we have lots of stuff like multiple pickets, rallies and socials planned. It’s going to be a big hit for members to lose four weeks’ pay, which is why all the donations to the hardship fund matter so much.  It’s getting people together that energises us and keeps us going and united.”

Workers get pennies while managers get thousands

Bosses have imposed a real-terms wage cut on their workforce of around 30 percent in the last 13 years. Eivinas says there’s been a “redistribution of wages” from frontline staff to senior management across the charity and public sectors.

Eivinas said the charity’s set up has “shocked” the workforce. “We’ve gone from seven executive directors in 2011 to a senior management team of 32 people,” he said. “Senior management has made many bad decisions too, and frontline workers pay the price.”

In March last year St Mungo’s had reserves of £15 million and a £22.5 million year-end cash balance. 

“They’re not showing us their accounts—what are we going to assume from that?” rep and London outreach worker Ailsa told Socialist Worker. “Our public funding is being directed away from frontline services and into the tops of the service.

“That money should move towards our clients and into frontline services. It’s not that there’s no money. It’s just not going where it needs to be.” Recently bosses created a whole new department of “transformational managers”. They are paying the director £130,000 a year.

Ailsa said, “A hostel worker role in Oxford is advertised for £21,000. No one can afford to live in Oxford working full time on that.” She slammed the pay inequality as “appalling” and said the issue is “systemic” in society.

“We’re completely undervalued,” Ailsa added. “No one will confirm Emma Haddad’s salary, but we know the previous CEO was on approximately £188,000.

“She said the week the strike started that the cost of living crisis has hit her hard too. It hasn’t—it’s hit people on £23,000 hard. 

“We hope we can start something where others come out and say they deserve better for what they do too. The four weeks of strike came from our members—they led that.”

Service users say ‘Keep fighting’

The strikers have received some criticism for being “selfish” for their action. But service users are on their side. 

Outside a hostel in central London one service user said on Tuesday of last week, “I support you. I’m with you all the way. Keep fighting, and I’d be out with you if I could.”

Health workers are also told they are selfish for striking, but on picket lines, most workers say their patients are absolutely behind their strikes. 

It’s the same at St Mungo’s, and charity workers should not feel defensive about fighting back for themselves and for the service they provide. “We’re not in this to make millions. People here have an incredible range of skills,” Ailsa said.

“They choose to do this because they believe in it and care about their clients. But that doesn’t mean they should be at risk of homelessness.

“We’ve asked execs why they’re not taking pay cuts. They quote their skills, knowledge and qualifications to justify how much they get. So what do they think of us? They need to value us,” Ailsa added. 

“We’re putting clients first by striking,” striker Paul told Socialist Worker. “It takes a while for clients to build trust with us. There are three months of work you do before starting to really work with people, so a high turnover of staff doesn’t help.   

“Retention is bad because pay is bad. It also means there’s been changes to how frontline services are offered.” Meanwhile agency staff who are relied on to fill the gaps earn 25 percent more than full time staff.

“Our clients support us because they know and understand we want to help them,” Paul added.

 ‘Anti-racism is central to our strike’

The strikers are keen to link their dispute with other fightbacks and to raise anti-racist demands. “St Mungo’s has a chequered history with the Home Office,” striker Zak told Socialist Worker.

St Mungo’s worked with the Home Office on patrols to look for rough sleepers to deport. The charity originally denied it passed on locations or information without consent, but people were deported due to its actions.

“It’s crucial in this hostile environment that outreach workers are there to give support to people in difficult conditions. They need to be able to trust us,” said Zak. He added that the strike is about pay but raises issues about “fighting for the future society we want to live in”.

“Is that a society where workers are valued and paid a proper salary that they can live on? Or is it a society where we let things like insidious racism be used by those in power to divide us?

“The strikes on the rail, in schools, the health service and post are linked. We need them all to win and anti-racism is central so that we don’t let divisions pushed from the top get in the way.”

Zak said that the year of strikes had given the St Mungo’s workers a boost of confidence. “It’s taken a long time to get this despite going, but watching others strike showed we can fight too.”

In 2014 St Mungo’s workers stuck and won their demands. They walked out for seven days and forced bosses to withdraw plans to cut pay for new starters and change procedures and policies. They can do the same again.

“We can see the path St Mungo’s is headed down,” Zak said. “This four-week dispute and a win depends on us and whether we can hold out—which we believe we can.”

London pickets— 7.30-10am

St Mungo’s Headquarters, E1 1YW

Lambeth Assessment, SW8 1SJ

Harrow Road, W2 5XQ

Rochester Row, SW1P 1LJ

Endell Street, WC2H 5XQ

Mare Street, E8 3SG

Great Guildford Street, SE1 OES

Spring Grounds, SE13 6JQ

Pound Lane, NW10 2HU


39-41 Surrey Street, BN1 3PB


New Street, BS2 9DX

59-61 Stokes Croft, BS1 3QP


1 Floyds Row OX1 1SS

To support the crowdfunder for the strike go to

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