The older readership of the WIHSC Blog may recall the Monty Python comedy sketch about the Spanish Inquisition, in which their ruthless leader Cardinal Fang would inflict his most vicious torture on his victims – The Comfy Chair!
I have spent more than 40 years of my life working in the NHS and throughout that period experienced two prevailing feelings. Firstly, a tremendous sense of satisfaction with the contribution I was making, and secondly a vague sense of unease about being undervalued. The coffee morning talk would often turn to how much fatter our pay packets would be if we were working in the Private Sector.
Reading the newspapers over recent weeks has led me to question whether my unease was rooted in reality, at least for the last few years of my working life. It appears that statistically a typical Public Sector worker in the UK now earns 30% more per hour than their Private Sector counterpart. Looking locally, this translates to Public Sector workers earning 20% more per week than Private Sector colleagues in Wales. Immediately I damned these statistics with the explanation that there are a higher proportion of skilled workers in the Public Sector, so these differentials would be expected. Sadly my dismissal of these numbers was apparently inappropriate as a piece of work from the Institute of Fiscal Studies has shown that even taking into account skill mix, the Public/Private differential still exists at 2% for men and 4% for women in favour of Public Sector workers. This study incidentally was undertaken in 2006, before the wage cuts, job losses and reduced working weeks that Private Sector workers have suffered as a result of the recession. I am sure that readers will recognise the now much used phrase ‘gold plated’ Public Sector pensions, and perhaps even the general public’s perception that job security is a feature, more of Public Sector than Private Sector employment. Incidentally this latter perception is rather borne out by the statistics – the chance of somebody employed as a Civil Servant being made compulsorily redundant have, up to this year, been 0.00007%.
I know all this is about to change, but after looking at these comparators I was left mightily impressed by the ability of Public Sector Trade Unions to persuade Government of the value of their Public Sector workers. Much rhetoric is now being generated about Public Sector industrial action, and I am left wondering whether Unions can be equally persuasive with the general public if industrial action rather than budget reductions are seen by the public to limit their access to Public Services.
I know the argument is that Public Sector employees should not be affected by the actions of Bankers, but I am sure that the car workers, employees of bankrupt retailers and other Private Sector staff felt exactly the same way. A calculation by the International Monetary Fund shows that bank bail outs, the credit crunch and the recession account for 14% of the expected increase of Britain’s debt burden, the remaining 86% is from growth in public spending on health, benefits, pensions and long term care.
It seems I need to re evaluate my sense of being an undervalued Public Sector employee. Perhaps after all, I was being tortured in the Comfy Chair.
There are hugely difficult times coming for individuals in the next few years. The detached discussions about what percentage budget cuts need to be imposed to rebalance our Nation’s finances are going to hide thousands of individual tales of sadness, but this is not designed to be anything more than a reflection on my past good fortune, and a sense of great relief that I am now ‘out of it all’.
I would like to leave the last word on perceptions of the Public Sector workforce to the epitome of British satire, Private Eye. Sometime ago, I saw a cartoon of a balding, scruffy and overweight middle aged man sat at a bar, sat next to him, is a young and curvaceous blonde. He turns to her and says ‘actually, I work in the Public Sector.’ On hearing this she leans forward, smiles and throatily whispers ‘Oh my! How interesting.’
Written by Glyn Griffiths, WIHSC Associate