From education to employment

Nearly two-fifths of public sector workers have taken steps to leave their profession or actively considering it – TUC poll reveals

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  • TUC says “recruitment and retention crisis” will get worse unless ministers resolve ALL of the current public sector pay disputes 
  • Poll reveals that pay is the main reason workers are quitting the profession, with in 1 in 6 public servants skipping meals 
  • New anti-strike plans are contributing to retention problems, poll reveals 
  • Union body says government should use the Budget to provide sustainable long-term funding for frontline services 

Nearly two-fifths of public sector workers (38%) have already taken steps to leave their profession to get a job in another field, or are actively considering it, according to new TUC polling published today (Tuesday). 

The new TUC polling, conducted by Opinium, comes as the union body warns that public services are facing a “mass exodus” of key workers unless ministers resolve all of the current pay disputes and provide sustainable funding. 

Public sector pay squeeze 

Public sector workers have endured more than a decade of pay cuts and pay freezes.  

The average public servant currently earns £200 a month less, in real terms, than in 2010. 

The TUC says the government’s decision to hold down pay has pushed many workers to the exit door and left many other struggling to make ends meet. 

Today’s poll reveals that of those public sector workers who said they are either actively considering quitting or have already taken steps to leave the profession: 

  • Over a third (36%) of key workers in the public sector cite low pay as a reason for wanting to quit 
  • Feeling undervalued (27%), a poor work life balance (23%) and a lack of career progression (23%) are also major factors in people quitting  

The poll finds that almost half (46%) of public sector workers say the government’s approach to pay has made them more likely to leave their job in the next one to three years. 

The latest data shows that NHS England is operating short of 133,000 staff due to unfilled vacancies. This represents a vacancy rate of 9.7%. 

And in the education sector, one in eight newly qualified teachers leave the profession after just one year in the job, with almost one-third (31%) leaving within their first five years.   

The union body says that these unfilled vacancies, on top of a decade of underfunding, have left public services “on their knees” – placing huge pressure on the public sector workers who remain. 

Cost of living crisis 

The polling reveals how the cost-of-living crisis is walloping public sector workers: 

  • Nearly 1 in 2 (45%) say that their household will struggle to afford household essentials (food and utility bills) in the next six months. 
  • 1 in 6 (17%) public sector workers say they are skipping meals and 1 in 14 (7%) say they are using foodbanks. 
  • Almost half (47%) say they are cutting back on food bills and around 1 in 2 (53%) say they are cutting back on energy use. 
  • More than a quarter (27%) say they are using existing savings to pay for household essentials.  

Strike restrictions 

The poll also reveals that the government’s new Strikes Bill is also contributing to retention problems. 

If passed, the Bill will mean that when workers democratically vote for lawful strikes they can be forced to work and sacked if they don’t comply. 

The poll finds that around two-fifths (37%) of public servants say that the implications of the Strikes Bill has made them more likely to leave their job in the next three years.  

Last week, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) warned that the proposed legislation could see all striking workers in affected sectors losing their right to unfair dismissal protection. 

Urgent action on talks and investment 

The TUC today repeated its call on the government to begin proper pay negotiations with all public sector unions. 

The union body warned that “divide and rule tactics” would not work and that unions would not rest until every public sector worker was given a fair pay rise. 

The TUC says the Chancellor should prioritise key worker pay and public services funding in this week’s Budget. 

The union body says ministers must: 

  • Give every key worker in the public sector a fair pay rise. 
  • Invest in public services – reversing any stealth cuts planned for future years and fully funding pay rises. 

Analysis published by the TUC and New Economics Foundation (NEF) last month revealed that the Conservatives are planning cuts to departmental budgets of £28bn a year (2022/23 prices) by 2027/28. 

TUC General Secretary Paul Nowak said: 

“Our amazing key workers in the public sector got this country through the pandemic. 

“But many are now leaving the jobs they love because of pay cuts, brutal workloads and years of feeling undervalued. 

“It is shameful that 1 in 6 are having to skip meals to get by. This is unsustainable.” 

On the need to resolve the current pay disputes, Paul Nowak added:  

“If the government does not resolve all the current pay disputes the recruitment and retention crisis crippling frontline services will only get worse. 

“While it’s good that pay talks are now taking place with health unions, the same must also happen in education and the civil service.   

“Divide and rule tactics are not going to wash. Unions won’t rest until every single public sector worker gets fair pay.” 

On the need to invest in public services Paul Nowak added: 

“We’ve all heard stories of ambulances not arriving in time or people having to wait for months for vital operations.  

“Meanwhile kids are being taught in crumbling classrooms and cash-starved local councils are struggling to provide even basic services. 

“Our public services do not have the capacity or the funding to keep up with demand.  

“The government must boost public service investment – including staff pay. This would ease the staffing crisis and lay the foundations for a stronger economy in the years ahead.” 

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