Public sector pay gap getting even wider

New ONS figures show public sector workers are earning even more than their private sector counterparts. Bad timing, politically...

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012

Popular support for the public sector strikes has never been particularly strong, but it could be about to diminish even further: according to new figures from the Office for National Statistics, the gap between average salaries in the public and private sectors has widened – in favour of the former. Apparently, civil servants were paid an average of 7.8% more than private sector staff in April 2010, well up on the 5.3% gap in 2007. Let the outrage commence...

Now before you grab your pitchfork and head to the nearest council offices, there are a couple of mitigating factors to remember here, as the ONS points out. For a start, increasing numbers of low-skilled jobs have been outsourced to the private sector over the years – meaning the average public sector worker is now higher-skilled, better qualified and older. In 2010, 38% of public sector workers had a degree or equivalent qualification, compared with 23% in the private sector - which goes some way towards accounting for the differences in salary.

Also, its figures don't take into account bonus payments or perks like company cars – which private sector workers tend to get more of (although it doesn't include pensions either, as far as we can tell, which would boost public sector earnings). And at the extreme ends of the scale, the private sector does actually pay more: graduates, for example, earn an average of 5.7% more than their public sector counterparts. Indeed, among the highest 5% and the lowest 5% of earners, the private sector tends to pay better.

So there's clearly more to these figures than meets the eye. But with public sector unions threatening strike action left, right and centre at the moment, it's not exactly ideal timing. Private sector workers have seen their take-home pay squeezed substantially in the last few years; if their public sector counterparts are already earning more, the former will find it even harder to understand why the latter shouldn't be expected to feel the squeeze too.

- Image credit: Flickr/N Hall

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