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Social Justice

Exclusive: Sky has ‘food banks’ across call centres for staff who can’t afford essentials

Sky says it is simply supporting its employees with the scheme but one worker told The Big Issue it was a “tacit sort of acceptance” that they aren’t paid enough

Sky call centres are running “de facto food banks” for staff who are struggling to pay for the basic costs of living, containing essential items donated by employees for their colleagues. 

Labelled a “food store” and “store cupboard” in a letter to employees seen by The Big Issue, the scheme allows staff to donate essential items like pasta, rice, beans, vegetables, household cleaning products and sanitary products to colleagues whose wages won’t cover their costs.

Sky defended the food cupboard, saying it was simply supporting its employees. The Big Issue understands the donation points are a feature across most of its call centres.

An employee at a Sky call centre in north-west England, where staff received the letter reminding them to use the store cupboard if they need any essentials, said: “It’s almost like a tacit sort of acceptance: ‘We know we don’t pay you enough. We know you’re going to struggle.’”

According to Sky’s job adverts, the starting salary for a customer service advisor in a call centre is £19,750 a year – rising to £20,800 a year after training. Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has found a single person would need to earn £25,500 to have a “decent standard of living”. 

It is understood these “store cupboards” have been run for some time across many Sky sites. Staff bring in goods themselves to help colleagues who cannot afford the essentials. 

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A letter sent from Sky management to employees at a call centre. Image: Supplied by employee

The Sky call centre also has a free lunch voucher scheme, which the worker says is run at the end of each month and offers “pre-packed sandwiches, crisps and cold drinks”. Colleagues have to claim their voucher from site management, which the employee said feels “extremely embarrassing and Dickensian”. 

He added: “You can’t argue with the fact that, on a site level, someone’s making an effort with the free meal and the food bank and I commend them for that. But I think with the optics, they clearly haven’t got their eyes open to what it says.”

He calls the store cupboard a “de facto food bank”. By dictionary-definition, a food bank is a “a place where food is given to people who do not have enough money to buy it”. 

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A Sky spokesperson said: “We’re focused on providing support to our colleagues and customers who need it most. For colleagues, this includes a £1,000 winter payment to 70 per cent of our staff, access to financial advice and a range of other services.”

The call centre employee acknowledged the £1,000 payment, which he claimed is paid in two parts and is the figure before tax. He believes this does not go far enough to help people who are struggling.

“It’s a slap in the face,” he said. “It says to me: ‘Yes, we understand that you’re going to struggle and you’re going to feel some really serious pressure on your wages. But we’re going to offer you something that’s not actually going to be a huge help.’”

He claimed that in March staff were given 1.5 per cent pay rises across the board. Inflation at the time was around 7 per cent – and  has wavered around 10 per cent for months as prices continue to soar.  

A spokesperson for the Communication Workers Union (CWU) said: “This is yet another employer finding fancy descriptions to avoid admitting they have launched workplace food banks. 

“It is an absolute disgrace that employers are doing anything other than the right thing  – properly boosting workers’ pay. It is an absolute disgrace that in the sixth richest country in the world, we have a situation where in work poverty is out of control.”

Break the cycle of poverty for good
Big Futures is calling on the Government to put in place a plan and policies to break this cycle of poverty for good. We are calling for long-term solutions to meet the biggest issues faced in the UK today – the housing crisis, low wages and the climate crisis. Dealing with these issues will help the UK to protect the environmental, social, economic and cultural wellbeing of future generations. So that young people and future generations have a fair shot at life. Join us and demand a better future.

Earlier this year BT was slammed for having a food donation point in one of its call centres, as exposed by the Big Issue. 

CWU general secretary Dave Ward tweeted at the time: “Instead of asking colleagues to keep each other fed, how about you pay people properly so they can afford to live and eat.”

Sabine Goodwin, the coordinator of the Independent Food Aid Network, commented on Sky’s food cupboards, saying: “Under whatever guise they come, sticking plaster food aid interventions won’t solve poverty. 

“The answer to rapidly escalating in-work poverty is for employers to become accredited real living wage employers, not to kick the can down the road as food insecurity grows. Everyone needs an adequate income whether through work or social security payments.”

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