Cost of living crisis: One in 12 civil servants 'using food banks'

Exodus as 38% of officials responding to union survey say they are looking for jobs outside civil service
One in 12 civil servants told the survey they have used food banks. Photo: Adobe Stock

By Tevye Markson

09 Aug 2022

One in 12 civil servants are using foodbanks, according to a survey by union PCS.

The survey, which reveals the struggles civil servants are experiencing amid the cost-of-living crisis, also shows that more than a third have skipped meals because they have no food.

So far, 12,000 union members have responded to the survey, with a snapshot of the results sent to CSW. This means close to a thousand civil servants have reported using foodbanks. Extrapolated across the civil service, this suggests tens of thousands of officials may be using foodbanks.

Almost one in ten said they had signed up to Universal Credit. Many said they earn just above the threshold for benefits and therefore are not eligible for any help.

Amid the financial woes highlighted in the survey, close to 40% of civil servants admitted applying for jobs outside government. This follows statistics released by the Cabinet Office last week which showed civil servants are leaving at the highest rate in 10 years.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “PCS members worked tirelessly during the pandemic to keep the country running, paying out benefits to almost two and a half million families, helping them to put food on their table and keep a roof over their head.

“But now they’re struggling to put food on their own tables as the cost-of-living crisis hits home.”

The survey shows how rising inflation and energy bills, along with small wage rises amounting to real-terms pay cuts, are hitting civil servants and their families.

The survey comes after Environment Agency chief executive Sir James Bevan said many of his staff were facing "real hardship" and some were using foodbanks as a pay rises failed to keep up with inflation.

The poll also shed light on how the financial crisis is affecting officials' work and home lives. Almost one in five of respondents said they had had to miss work because they could not afford to pay for transport or fuel and more than one in ten said they had taken on an additional job.

Civil servants have also had trouble paying for basic things: 40% said they had to take out a loan or use credit to pay for essential shopping and 51% said they are worried about being able to pay their rent or mortgage or whether they will be able to keep their home.

The financial crisis is also having a huge impact on civil servants’ wellbeing, with 85% of survey respondents saying the cost-of-living crisis is having a detrimental effect on their physical and/or mental health.

"As the Conservative leadership contenders squabble over what tax cuts to make, the same civil servants who will be asked to deliver their policies are being cast adrift,” Serwotka said.

"They must be treated with respect, not as political pawns used by politicians. And they must be given an above-inflation pay rise to help them with the rising costs of food and fuel.”

A government spokesperson said: "We recognise the pressures families across the country are facing due to rising prices caused by global challenges. That’s why we have continually taken action to help households by phasing in £37bn worth of support throughout the year.  

"This package will see millions of the most vulnerable households receive at least £1,200 of support in total this year to help with the cost of living, with all domestic electricity customers receiving at least £400 to help with their bills.”

Serwotka also called for an above-inflation pay rise now to help civil servants through the cost-of-living crisis.

Most departments will offer their staff an average 2% pay rise this year, rising to 3% in certain cases. Meanwhile, inflation reached 9.4% in July.

The government said it is “providing public sector workers with the highest uplifts in nearly twenty years, targeted towards the lowest paid – with civil servants receiving a pay rise in the next year”.

The survey also reveals parents’ concerns both about coping during the summer holidays and once school restarts.

One in six officials said they dread the school holidays because they wonder how they will feed their children, while a quarter said they fear the return of school because they struggle to buy new clothes and equipment.

Here are the full results of the survey so far:

Civil servants' response to PCS survey

Cost-of-living crisis is having a detrimental impact on their physical and/or mental health

Using foodbanks 8%
Have skipped meals because they have no food 35%

Have had to take out a loan or use credit to pay for essential shopping


Have had to miss work because they could not afford to pay for transport/fuel


Worried about being able to pay their rent or mortgage or keeping their home


Claiming benefits (Universal Credit)


Have taken on an additional job


Are applying for jobs outside civil ser vice


Dread the school holidays because they wonder how they’ll feed their children


Fear the return of school because they struggle to buy new clothes and equipment


Serwotka also criticised ministers, such as Jacob Rees-Mogg, for urging civil servants to work from the office more often while failing to ensure they can afford to travel to work.

A government spokesperson said:"The public rightly expect that taxpayer-funded services are delivered as effectively as possible and existing backlogs cleared. Ministers and the cabinet secretary have been clear about the benefits of face to face, collaborative working, to civil servants and all taxpayers alike."

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