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One in five key workers considering quitting over pay

Emma Lunn
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Emma Lunn

A fifth of key workers in the public sector are ‘actively considering’ changing profession due to a toxic mix of low pay, excessive workloads and a lack of recognition, according to the Trades Union Congress (TUC).

Analysis by the union shows that public sector wages are down significantly in real terms over past decade. It criticised Boris Johnson’s promise of ‘a high wage economy’, branding it ‘farcical’ while his government continues to hold down public sector pay.

The polling, conducted by YouGov, reveals serious disillusionment among key workers in the public sector. Feeling undervalued, low pay and an excessive workload were cited as the most common reasons for workers wanting to quit.

This year, the government awarded a 3% pay rise to NHS staff and imposed a pay freeze (in real terms a pay cut) on most other public sector staff.

More than a quarter (27%) of public sector key workers say that government policy on public sector pay has made them more likely to quit, according to the new polling. This rises to more than four in 10 (43%) among those actively considering quitting.

The TUC says that boosting key worker pay must be a priority in the upcoming spending review. The union warned that many key workers in the public sector are at breaking point and on the verge of leaving their profession for good. More than half (57%) said it was because they felt undervalued, more than two in five (43%) say it is because pay is too low, while a third (35%) said it was because of an excessive workload.

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

The TUC says a pay rise for public sector key workers is ‘long overdue’, as it published analysis which shows how public sector pay has fallen in real terms across the board since 2010. Its calculations found that paramedic pay is down £3,194 a year in real terms, nurses pay down £2,469, and porter pay down £771.

In local government care worker pay is down £1,490 a year in real terms, while refuse collector pay is down £1,519.

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. The union also wants all outsourced workers to be paid at least the real Living Wage and get parity with directly employed staff.

Frances O’Grady, TUC general secretary, 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. The prime minister’s promise of a high wage economy is nothing short of farcical while his government continues to hold down public sector pay.

“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.”