Public sector has lowest share of UK workforce since 1947

Analysis by GMB finds public sector now employs less than 17% of workers, with civil service headcount dropping by 18% since 2010

Just under a million public sector jobs have been lost since 2010. Credit: Chris Young/PA

By Tamsin Rutter

19 Sep 2017

The public sector employs less than 17% of UK workers which, according to analysis by GMB, is the lowest share of the workforce for 70 years.

The trade union has claimed that spending cuts and privatisation since 2010 has resulted in the public sector having the smallest share of the labour market since 1947, the year before the NHS was founded.

Most job losses have been in local government but the civil service had 423,000 employees as of June 2017, which GMB calculated as an 18.2% drop from 517,000 in 2010.


In total, just under a million public sector jobs have been lost since 2010.

The union compared figures released last week by the Office for National Statistics with previous annual ONS data since records began in 1999, and historic Bank of England data that preceded it.
It found that the public sector share of the UK workforce was 16.9% in June 2017, down from 17.1% in 2016, 22% in 2009, and an all-time high of 30.6% in 1977.

The last time the public sector share of the workforce was as low as 16.9% was in 1947, and it never dipped below 20% while Margaret Thatcher – a famous proponent of small government – was prime minister. The data goes back to 1937 when the share was just 9%.

Rehana Azam, GMB national secretary for public services, said the figures were a stark reminder of the “scale of the catastrophe” befalling public services, and called for proper funding from government.

“Any sensible opportunities for efficiencies are long gone – funding reductions are now cutting into sheer bone,” she said.

“GMB’s members are performing miracles but the vital services they deliver are being stripped-back and hollowed-out and denied the resources they need, and workers are being denied the fair pay rises they deserve.”

The government has said that more people are in work than ever before, and that for every job lost in the public sector since 2010, eight new jobs have been created in the private sector.

Civil Service World analysis of the ONS data found that staff numbers in central government departments rose in the three months to June 2017 – but that the civil service increased its use of casual workers by 30% over the same period.

GMB has also published a new report arguing that the government’s review of public sector pay policy ignores the 55% of public sector workers – including civil servants below Senior Civil Service level – that aren’t covered by a Pay Review Body.

It claims that recruitment and retention challenges have led to an increase in spending on agency and temporary workers of £2.5bn since 2012/13. 

“The Treasury estimated that the cap would save £2.2bn in 2017/18 – raising the prospect that the cap is not saving any money at all,” said the union.

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