Poll outlines scale of falling public sector morale

A poll by the TUC shows around a third of frontline public sector workers are actively looking to leave their sector.

Tired nurse wears face mask blue uniform gloves sits on hospital floor. Essential worker feels burnout stress of corona virus frontline


Around one third of key workers in the public sector (32%) 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.

In both education and health and social work, the proportion of key workers who have taken steps to leave or are actively considering it is around the same, at about a third of the workforce (34% in education and 31% in health).

The new TUC polling, conducted by YouGov, comes as the union body warns ministers that public services are facing a “mass exodus” of key workers unless ministers deliver “decent pay rises” for key workers.

The poll comes amid a wave of ballots for industrial action across education, health and local government this autumn and winter. Unison, the Royal College of Midwifes, NASUWT and National Education Union all started balloting their members this week.

Almost half (45%) of key workers in the public sector say the government approach on pay has made them more likely to leave their job in the next one to three years. For workers in health and social care, the number rises to 50%. Of those that say they have taken steps to leave or are considering leaving, around half cite low pay (52%).

Feeling undervalued (47%), a poor work life balance (33%) and excessive workloads (31%) are also major factors.

Latest data shows that NHS England is operating short of almost 130,000 staff due to unfilled vacancies. This represents a vacancy rate of 9.7 per cent. In the education sector, one in eight newly qualified teachers (NQTs) leave the profession after one year in the job, with almost one-third of NQTs (31%) leaving within their first five years, according to the TUC which says that these unfilled vacancies, on top of a decade of underfunding, have left public services “cut down to the bone” – placing huge amounts of pressure on public sector workers.

Recent TUC analysis shows that many frontline staff in the NHS will see their pay packets shrink this year in real terms, with nurses’ real pay down by over £1,100 this year. That comes after over a decade of pay cuts for key workers in the public sector. Further analysis shows, for instance, that nurses’ real pay is down £4,300 compared to 2010. In the education sector, teachers have already lost around a fifth of the value of their pay due to government pay cuts between 2010 and 2021, according to the NEU. The real term pay cuts imposed this year will see the majority of teachers’ pay worth 25% less than it was in 2010, according to NASUWT analysis.

The TUC is calling on the government to urgently prioritise key worker pay and public services funding in their fiscal event on 17th November by giving key workers in the public sector cost-of-living proofed pay rises, raising the minimum wage to £15 an hour as soon as possible and reversing the impact of rising inflation and ensuring the spending measures set out in the 2021 comprehensive spending review are not only delivered but improved upon

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Key workers in the public sector helped get the country through the pandemic. But many are now at breaking point because of a toxic mix of low pay, unsustainable workloads and a serious lack of recognition.

“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. It is little wonder morale is through the floor and many key workers are considering leaving their jobs for good.”

Meanwhile, it was reported on Tuesday that public sector workers could face a pay squeeze as the government seeks to fill a £35bn gap in public finances with plans for a pay rise of just 2% across the board for 2023/24. That would represent a real-term cut and would be lower than the average public sector pay rise this year, which was about 5%.

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