Institute of Education


IOE report sheds light on public servants' pay

4 July 2017

Primary school teacher and class

A report published today co-authored by Professor Alex Bryson from the UCL Institute of Education (IOE) provides new evidence on trends in pay for public servants covered by Pay Review Bodies (PRB).  

The report, which was produced for the Office of Manpower Economics, tracks real median earnings for 394 occupations over the period 2005-2015, including 32 PRB occupations in the five major PRBs (NHS staff; School Teachers; Doctors and Dentists; Police Officers; and Prison Service Staff). 

It shows that median real gross hourly occupational earnings have fallen by 5.8% since 2005. This decline was steeper among non-PRB occupations (6.1%) than it was among PRB occupations (3.1%). The report reveals that changes in real median earnings varied considerably across PRB occupations - even those whose pay was set by the same PRB.

Eight-in-ten of the largest PRB occupations experienced a drop in real median earnings. School teachers saw a drop from £25 an hour in 2005 to £22 an hour in 2015. Police officers saw a fall from £20 an hour to £18 an hour over the same period. Doctors saw a drop from £38 an hour to £30, while prison officers' median real earnings fell from £16 an hour to £15 an hour.

Among the 10 largest PRB occupations, which are the focus of the report, five were outside the top 100 occupations in terms of median hourly earnings over the whole period. In 2015, Nursing Auxiliaries were the lowest paid of these 10 PRB occupations, with median earnings of £10 per hour. This put them in 276th position in the occupational earnings rankings among the 394 occupations in the study. Five of the 10 PRB occupations had fallen in the occupational earnings rankings since 2005, with Radiographers and Physios dropping furthest (30 and 20 places respectively).

Commenting on the findings, Professor Bryson said:

"Real earnings have stagnated or declined for most occupations, PRB and non-PRB, since 2005. The big difference between PRB employees and those in non-PRB occupations in the private sector is that PRB employees are public servants. As such, the government can ultimately decide how much they are paid. Government will weigh public concern over pay equity for groups like nurses, and experts' concerns regarding public employers' ability to recruit, retain and motivate staff, against the potential costs of lifting the 1% cap for the public purse.

"That cost could be quite considerable, but history reminds us that periods of public sector pay restraint are rarely successful and are often followed by a period of wage inflation. Whether this is likely given current macro-conditions remains to be seen, but it appears unlikely."

The report was produced by Professor Bryson and John Forth, Associate Research Fellow at the National Institute of Economic and Social Research.

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James Russell
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Email: james.russell@ucl.ac.uk

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