11 November 2021

The impact of low public sector pay on PCS young members

Corey blogs about the worrying trend of young people seeing work in the public sector and union membership as a temporary step before they leave for greener pastures.

In the autumn budget Rishi Sunak announced the end of the pay freeze for public sector workers. But without increases in departmental budgets people are rightly concerned that this is just a symbolic gesture that fixes nothing.

If wages continue to stagnate, quality of life will deteriorate and we’re going to look for alternatives to supplement our income, with many hoping these ‘side hustles’ will eventually replace their day jobs. In many industries that might mean being your own boss in an area you’re familiar with, if you’re in the public sector that means imagining yourself leaving.

Wanting to be your own boss is a truism about younger workers borne out by the stats on the increasing number of people in the UK wanting to open their own business. There are increasing numbers of company directors aged 18-24 listed with Companies House which suggests this trend will continue well into the future. The government wants to encourage this, it's not an unexpected side effect.

Some of the most popular reasons people want to start their own business are that people want to earn more and achieve a better work/life balance, seeing entrepreneurship as the only way to achieve those things. Whilst the government continues to strangle public sector wages, either through overt austerity, or by sleight of hand such as in the latest budget, this escapist idea will continue to impact the whole sector.

This is toxic for the future of a strong public service. I don’t believe young people will ever stop being part of the public sector, but this is going to create a rotten foundation where young people cycle into the entry roles while already planning to leave, slowly starving the sector of necessary experience. Unions will also suffer for this: people planning to leave as soon as they can won't be as invested in the need to improve working conditions, instead imagining that they’ll be able to leave for greener pastures any day now.

Only by working collectively to improve working conditions and fight for fair pay can this insidious ideal be reversed. Work life balance and wages are two areas where the trade union movement has won in the past and will continue to fight for improvements.