Public sector workers skipping meals, taking out loans and struggling to sleep because of cost of living crisis

‘It’s been a real struggle and we’ve had to borrow money off family and go to food banks’

Public sector workers are struggling to make ends meet as a result of the cost of living crisis, with around a third skipping meals and even more relying on credit cards.

A survey of low-paid public service staff carried out by Unison found that the vast majority are finding it increasingly difficult to pay their household bills, while some are being forced to rely on food banks.

One library assistant told the trade union that he was only eating one meal a day due to rising energy bills.

The head of the UK’s largest trade union, UNISON Christine McAnea, said the government “must realise” that workers need to be “paid fairly with wage increases in line with, or above, inflation”.

This comes as Ofgem is expected to announce another significant rise in the energy price cap later this week, and recent figures show rampant inflation is leaving workers drastically worse off in real terms than this time last year.

‘I was just surviving before, now I’m scared’

Of more than 2,000 workers earning £20,000 or less surveyed, with jobs in industries  like healthcare, teaching and local government, 80% said they are suffering with anxiety as a result of rising costs, and around one in five are planning on leaving the public sector for a job elsewhere.

It also found that 37% are now reliant on a credit card for everyday spending, while 13% have taken out bank loans to meet daily expenses and 8% have had to turn to payday loans.

The survey found that 95% of low paid public sector workers are finding it increasingly difficult to pay household bills.

This has resulted in just less than one in three (31%) skipping meals, with 11% doing so in order to allow their children to eat.

Mark*, a library assistant surveyed by Unison, said he has only eaten one meal a day in the last week so that he can make his food budget last until the end of the month.

“I was just surviving before,” he said, “now my energy bills have doubled and I’m scared of what the winter will bring.”

UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said: “The cost-of-living crisis has decimated household incomes.

“Low-paid workers have nothing left to cut from their budgets. They’re now forced to take drastic measures which could damage their health and leave them deeper in debt. Some may never recover from the financial and emotional hit.

“Many can’t afford to work in public services any longer, which will have a devastating effect on our communities. The government must realise that to protect services and the people who rely on them, staff need to be paid fairly with wage increases in line with, or above, inflation.”

In some cases, workers in key industries like healthcare have been left to rely on foodbanks to survive, the survey found.

Lucy*, a healthcare assistant who is currently on maternity leave, described the last few months as a “real struggle”.

She said: “I’m on maternity leave and my husband was off sick for three months. It’s been a real struggle and we’ve had to borrow money off family, go to food banks and collect free items from websites.

“I’m worried that I’ll have to choose between heating and food in the winter.”