Nearly 2 million public sector workers could be close to quitting over poor pay, their representatives have warned, leaving the UK’s public services facing a looming crisis.
The Trades Union Congress (TUC) said the efforts of millions of key workers got the UK through the worst of the Covid pandemic, but now those same workers were facing another year of “pay misery” at the hands of the government – while the cost of living continues to soar.
“Many are now at breaking point because of a toxic mix of low pay, unsustainable workloads and a serious lack of recognition,” said its outgoing general secretary, Frances O’Grady.
She spoke as the TUC said the public sector faced a “mass exodus” of key workers unless ministers delivered “decent pay rises”.
The body pointed to research carried out by YouGov that found one in three of the 1,400 public sector workers surveyed were either thinking of doing so or had already taken steps in that direction. The TUC said its analysis suggested this could equate to 1.8 million people nationwide.
“After years of brutal pay cuts, nurses, teachers, refuse workers and millions of other public servants have seen their living standards decimated – and now face more pay misery,” O’Grady said.
“It is little wonder morale is through the floor and many key workers are considering leaving their jobs for good.”
Below-inflation pay rises announced by the government in the summer have prompted a series of strike ballots by health and education unions.
The TUC said key workers across the NHS faced another year of “pay misery” after more than a decade of having their wages held down by successive Conservative governments.
The TUC said this year’s pay awards came on top of a “brutal” decade of pay cuts for key workers in the public sector. The stark picture stands before a backdrop of increasingly burdensome living costs, exacerbated by a disastrous Conservative economic experiment under the leadership of Liz Truss, and decreasing real-terms pay across the public sector and much of the private.
On Saturday, thousands of people protested against the huge cost of childcare, while the London mayor, Sadiq Khan, called for a private sector rent freeze, as well as other emergency measures, to deal with a rough sleeping crisis in the capital.
At the same time, headteachers and charities have warned that councils across England are “quietly” axing holiday food voucher schemes for children on free school meals.
Providing a picture of the long-term decline in living standards, some outsourced staff at one of the UK’s most prestigious universities are preparing to strike to secure a pay rise. But their representatives said that, even if their most trenchant demands were met, they would only be earning the same nominal hourly rate their predecessors were paid two decades ago – before outsourcing was introduced. This, they pointed out, would represent a huge decrease in spending power due to inflation in that time.
“If there is large-scale public sector strike action over the months ahead, the government only has itself to blame,” O’Grady said. “They have chosen to hold down public servants’ pay while giving bankers unlimited bonuses.
“Ministers must change course. Without decent pay rises for key workers in the public sector, we face a mass exodus of staff. And it would be bad for our economy. As the country teeters on the brink of recession, the last thing we need is working people cutting back on spending even more.”