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• Toxic mix of low pay, excessive workloads and a lack of recognition pushing public sector key workers to the brink, warns TUC
• NEW analysis shows public sector wages down significantly in real terms over past decade
• TUC says looming cost of living crisis cannot be tackled while government continues to hold down public sector pay
• Spending review must prioritise key worker pay, says union body

A quarter (24 per cent) of key workers in the public sector in the South West are “actively considering” quitting and changing profession, according to new TUC polling published today.

The polling, conducted by YouGov, reveals serious disillusionment among the South West’s key workers in the public sector – with feeling undervalued, low pay and an excessive workload the most common reasons cited by workers for wanting to quit.

This year, the government awarded a three per cent pay rise to NHS staff and imposed a pay freeze (in real terms a pay cut) on most other public sector staff.

Over two thirds (36 per cent) of public sector key workers in the region say that government policy on public sector pay has made them less likely to stay in the profession, according to the new polling.

The TUC has warned that if ministers fail to give departments the funding needed to raise pay they will not be ending the public sector pay freeze, amid reporting suggesting the chancellor is set to announce an end to the freeze.

Pushed to the brink

The TUC has warned that a “toxic mix” of low pay, excessive workloads and a broader lack of recognition is pushing key workers in the public sector to the brink – with many at breaking point and on the verge of leaving their profession for good.

Even before the pandemic, there were 100,000 vacancies in the NHS and more than 112,000 in social care.

The union body says that these unfilled vacancies, on top of a decade of underfunding, has left public services “cut down to the bone” – placing huge amounts of pressure on public sector workers.

Pay rise “long overdue”

The TUC says a pay rise for public sector key workers is “long overdue” after eleven years of Conservative government, as it publishes new analysis which shows how public sector pay has fallen in real terms across the board since 2010.  

In the NHS:

  • Paramedic pay is down by £3,194
  • Nurse pay is down £2,469
  • Porter pay is down £771

In local government:

  • Care worker pay is down £1490
  • Refuse collector pay is down £1,519

And for other public sector key workers:

  • Firefighter pay is down £2,579
  • Teacher pay is down £2,003

Support urgently needed for key workers

The TUC is calling on the government to urgently prioritise key worker pay and public services funding in the forthcoming spending review. The union body says ministers must:

  • End the freeze on public service workers’ pay and give all public service workers a decent pay rise by giving Whitehall departments the necessary funding to do so.
  • Fund the public sector so that all outsourced workers are paid at least the real Living Wage and get parity with directly employed staff.
  • Raise the national minimum wage to £10 per hour immediately.
  • Increase investment in our public services so schools, hospitals, councils and the wider civil service can deliver the services communities need.

South West TUC Regional Secretary Nigel Costley said:

“Everyone deserves fair pay and dignity at work.  But too many key workers in the public sector are at breaking point because of a toxic mix of low pay, excessive workloads and a serious lack of recognition.

“These are the nurses, care workers, and teachers that helped keep the country going through the pandemic.

“After years of our key workers being underpaid and our public services underfunded, this pandemic has to be a turning point. 

“Enough is enough. Ministers must use the autumn spending review to end the public sector pay freeze and give all public sector workers a pay rise. And they must properly fund our public services too.”

On rumours about the chancellor ending the pay freeze, Nigel added:

“We’ll wait to see the substance of any proposals.  

“In the face of a looming cost-of-living crisis the government must increase departmental budgets so that every public sector worker gets a meaningful, real terms pay increase.  

“If ministers don’t give departments the funding to raise pay, they are not ending the public sector pay freeze.  

“Ministers must also set out a plan to restore the value of public sector pay. After eleven years of Conservative government, millions of key workers are still earning less today in real terms than they were in 2010.”

Editors note

-The YouGov survey polled 6919 adults of which 1364 were public sector workers. Fieldwork was undertaken between 4th - 7th October 2021.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).

-Pay data compares wages in 2010 and in 2021 and is adjusted for inflation using CPI – comparing 2010 wages in real terms today (if they had kept up with the cost of living) with 2021 wages.

  • For NHS, 2021 wages are estimated using the 3% pay award recommended by the PRB
  • The pay figures are for individual occupations at the top of agenda for change pay scale
  • For local government, 2021 wages are estimated using the National employers pay offer of 1.75%

- The Trades Union Congress (TUC) exists to make the working world a better place for everyone. We bring together the 5.5 million working people who make up our 48 member unions. We support unions to grow and thrive, and we stand up for everyone who works for a living.

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