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Care workers are calling in sick because they cannot afford fuel to drive their cars to look after people in their homes, a union leader has said.

Christina McAnea, general secretary of Unison, attacked the Government for “not having a plan” to tackle the cost-of-living crisis.

The union is campaigning for decent pay rises for millions of public sector workers, including those in the NHS and local government, who she complained had been subjected to wage restraint for years.

Many had worked through the pandemic, putting themselves and their families at risk, but still faced below-inflation pay rises, she said.

Ms McAnea said the cost-of-living crisis will be the main issue at Unison’s annual conference in Brighton next week.

In an interview ahead of the conference, she warned that staff were leaving the NHS in greater numbers than new recruits, including clinical workers, porters, caterers and cleaners.

“The private sector can afford to pay more, so public sector staff are leaving to work for supermarkets down the road.

“Half of local government workers earn less than £25,000 a year. It is now costing care workers £100 to fill up their car. They just cannot afford it.”

Care workers would rather call in sick because they do not have the money for petrol, she said.

Ms McAnea said the Government was refusing to meet trade unions to discuss the crisis, adding: “This feels like an out-of-touch government in its dying days.”

Asked about calls from the Government about pay restraint, she said: “They have forgotten what hospital and ambulance staff and care workers did during the pandemic. It’s like they want to ignore them now.”

Christina McAnea, general secretary of Unison ( Daily Mirror/Ian Vogler)

She added that billions of pounds could be raised by measures such as increasing corporation tax, which could be used to fund public sector pay rises.

Earlier the union leader threw her weight behind the looming rail strike, stressing workers need a pay rise as record inflation begins to bite.

She told the Mirror rail staff were facing a 6.5% real terms pay cut and that the RMT union was therefore right to reject the government’s pay offer.

Ms McAnea said foodbank use was on the rise among middle income workers as the cost of living crisis takes hold, adding of the strikes: “I completely understand why they are doing this.”

The union chief also urged the public to support striking public sector workers, saying plummeting pay and conditions were forcing people to retire early or take second jobs to get by.

Ms McAnea also said healthcare staff were living on the breadline, with even middle income nurses turning to emergency loans to get by.

Ministers must urgently update HMRC’s mileage rates, which have remained unchanged at 45p per mile since 2011 despite petrol prices shooting up in recent years, she said.

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