Local Government

Living on the Edge: Pay in Local Government

  • Published 22nd Feb 2012
  • Authors: Peter Kenway, , Anushree Parekh, , Hannah Aldridge,
  • Category: Local Government

The local government workforce in England and Wales is a big part of the public sector – and a very big part of the local public sector – yet there is little understanding among the general public of who is in it. The two main archetypes, teacher and town hall bureaucrat, either do not apply at all or apply to just a few.

This lack of understanding is made worse by misleading comparisons by politicians and policy makers between the public and private sectors. The reason why such comparisons are misleading is that they overlook the huge differences in jobs and pay within each sector. This report aims to correct this by showing who belongs to the local government workforce, what they do, what they are paid, and how they compare with the private sector and the rest of the public sector.

Key findings:

  1. 1.7 million people worked in local government in England and Wales in 2010, around a quarter of the 6.9 million working in the public sector. Three quarters of the local government workforce are women. Well over half of the workforce work part-time.
  2. Local government (like the rest of the public sector) has a much higher proportion of women in its workforce than the private sector. Local government has a much higher proportion of part-time jobs than the rest of the public sector.
  3. Two thirds of the jobs in local government are manual or clerical jobs, almost exactly the same proportion as in the private sector. In the rest of the public sector, only one third of jobs are manual or clerical.
  4. Eight per cent of full-time workers and 38% of part-time workers in local government earned less than the Living Wage of £7.20 an hour in 2011. This is a quarter of the workforce.
  5. Both full-time and part-time hourly earnings in local government are well below those in the public sector as a whole. Part-time hourly earnings in local government are above those in the private sector (where a quarter earned £6 an hour or less in 2010).
  6. High inflation coupled with a pay freeze that began in April 2010 slashed the real value of earnings in local government by 13% between April 2009 and February 2012. A fall this big is unprecedented. Continuing high inflation means that earnings will fall further still.
  7. Thanks to the pay freeze and inflation, typical full-time hourly earnings in local government have sunk back to the levels of the early 1990s. Typical part-time hourly earnings have fallen back to 2002 levels.
  8. Low paid local government employees usually need benefits and tax credits to keep their household out of poverty. The higher but still modest minimum income standard is rarely reached. 
  9. Low paid local government workers and their families are in a financially precarious position. A reduction in hours, a child leaving school or a partner whose eligibility for contribution-based social security ceases can all take the household to the edge of poverty. This is despite the fact that the local government employee continues to work. Pay for these workers is poverty pay.
  10. Quality of service considerations – and in the case of care workers and others in personal service occupations, considerations of the human rights of clients – are grounds for improving the pay and conditions as well as the training of local government employees. The pretence that jobs such as caring for elderly, frail or otherwise vulnerable people requires but little skill is a symptom of our society’s inability to recognise and value some of the things in life that matter most.

About this report
This report was funded by UNISON and written by Peter Kenway, Anushree Parekh, and Hannah Aldridge. The facts presented and views expressed in this report are those of the authors and not necessarily those of UNISON.