One in 10 civil servants ‘on poverty pay’

New research finds tens of thousands of Whitehall workers on trapped in in-work poverty due to low wages

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By Jim.Dunton

28 Feb 2019

Around 10% of civil servants and tens of thousands of outsourced staff working for central government departments are paid less than the cost of living, according to the findings of a new survey of public sector workers.

Data from think tank the Smith Institute put together for charity the Living Wage Foundation reveals that 1.2m public-sector workers across the UK earn less than its “real living wage”, based on the real cost of living and which is currently £9 per hour outside London and £10.55 in the capital.

A breakdown of the figures classifying staff by the part of the public sector in which they work found that 42,000 staff in central government and the civil service were paid at below the real living wage rate, with a further 27,000 outsourced workers at departments and their agencies falling short.


The is means that around 10% of civil servants are paid below the living wage rate, with Office for National Statistics figures published in December stating there is a civil service headcount of 435,000, while the Institute for Government’s annual Whitehall Monitor snapshot put the number of civil servants across government at 404,160 as of September last year.

The Living Wage Foundation said the “living wage” was independently calculated and distinct from the National Living Wage, announced by then-chancellor George Osborne in 2015 and effective from April 2016.

It said the government measure was not calculated according to what employees and their families needed to live, but was instead based on a target to reach 60% of median earnings by 2020 – and currently forecast to be less than £9 per hour by then.

Living Wage Foundation head of campaigns Lola McEvoy said it was “simply wrong” that staff whose wages were paid by the public purse were struggling to keep their heads above water on pay that did not meet basic living costs.

“It’s time for our public institutions to lead by example and join nearly 5,000 employers who pay the real Living Wage,” she said.

“The public support this, politicians support this, the Treasury would benefit from this – there’s no reason not to do it.”

Local government workers made up the lion’s share of the Living Wage Foundation’s 1.2m figure, with 389,000 directly-employed staff and 249,000 outsourced workers failing to earn the target rates.

The figures for the National Health Service and health authorities were 204,000 directly-employed workers and 131,000 outsourced staff.

Christina McAnea, assistant general secretary at Unison – the nation’s biggest union for public-sector workers – said the report showed "hundreds of thousands of workers delivering essential public services are on poverty pay", and highlighted that many members needed second and even third jobs just to keep the wolf from the door.  

“In a decent, caring society no-one should be struggling like this. Dedicated public servants deserve better,” she said.

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