Around 1.8 million public sector workers could be seriously thinking about quitting, suggesting The Great Resignation is far from over.

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 a TUC poll published on Friday.

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 Trades Union Congress (TUC) warns of a “mass exodus” of staff without decent pay rises for key workers as industrial action looms.

The government imposed significant real terms pay cuts on key workers in the public sector earlier this year, sparking a wave of ballots for industrial action across education, health and local government this autumn and winter.

The Great Resignation: pushed to the brink by low pay

The government’s decision to hold down pay for key workers in the public sector is worsening the public sector recruitment and retention crisis, according to the TUC – highlighting the new poll findings.

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 percent.

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 percent. 

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.  

The union body says that 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.

A brutal decade of pay cuts

The union body says key workers across the NHS face another year of “pay misery” after more than a decade of having their wages held down by successive Conservative governments.

Recent TUC analysis shows that many frontline staff in the NHS will see their pay packets shrink this year in real terms:  

  • Nurses’ real pay will be down by over £1,100 this year  
  • Paramedics’ real pay will be down by over £1,500 this year  
  • Hospital porters’ real pay will be down by £200 this year 
  • Maternity care assistants’ real pay will be down by £600 this year

The TUC says that this year’s pay cuts come on top of a brutal decade of pay cuts for key workers in the public sector.

Recent analysis by the union body shows that in real terms: 

  • Nurses’ real pay is still down £4,300 compared to 2010  
  • Paramedics’ real pay is still down by £5,600 compared to 2010
  • Porters’ real pay is still down by £1,300 compared to 2010
  • Maternity care assistants’ real pay is still down by £3,200 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 percent less than it was in 2010, according to NASUWT analysis.

NAHT analysis suggests school leaders’ pay is down 24 percent since 2010.

Support urgently needed for key workers

The TUC is calling on the government to urgently prioritise key worker pay and public services funding in their fiscal event on 17 November.

The union body says ministers must:

  • Give key workers in the public sector cost-of-living proofed pay rises
  • Raise the minimum wage to £15 an hour as soon as possible
  • Invest in public services – 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.

On the prospect of industrial action, Frances added:

“If there is large-scale public sector strike action over the months ahead, the government only has itself to blame. 

“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. 

“More money in the pockets of working people means more spend on our high streets.

“Enough is enough. It’s time to give our key workers in the public sector the decent pay rise they are owed.”






Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.