Young workers vanishing from the public sector, says UNISON

Date: Tuesday 14 January 2014

Young people are the biggest losers of public service job cuts as figures reveal the number of young workers has fallen by a quarter.

Workforce data published by Audit Scotland shows there are 1,545 people aged under 20-years-old working in Scotland’s public services, down 25 per cent since 2009.

The cuts have led to an ageing workforce. In 2013, the average age was 44 years and four months, compared with 43 years and nine months in 2009. With nearly 40 per cent retiring in the next 10-15 years – although the reality is many will leave sooner – there is a very real concern of serious skills shortages across the public sector.

The workforce is also shrinking at an alarming rate. Since the financial crash, 49,500 jobs have been lost across the public sector; 4,400 in the last year. However, this is thought to be the tip of the iceberg as data from the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) and the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) indicates a further 60,000 jobs could be lost over the next five years.

The job cuts have been implemented largely by salami slicing services – in other words, cutting staff and services that the public may not immediately notice – rather than direct service cuts. This leads to increased pressures on the staff that remain to deliver the services when demand is rising.

Dave Watson, UNISON Scotland’s Head of Bargaining and Campaigns, said:
“The numbers are staggering and evidence the disastrous consequences of spending cuts for Scotland.

“The recruitment freeze is already condemning a generation of young people, many of whom have trained for years, to a life of unemployment. We are seeing an ageing workforce with well over a third of the workforce due to retire in the next 10-15 years, leading to serious skills shortages. Better workplace planning at both Scottish and local level can help, but it’s only a sticking plaster on the gaping holes that are developing in service provision.

“Cuts in services and jobs are destroying the local economy. Taking billions of pounds out of public services means taking billions of pounds out of the Scottish economy. Around 70p in every pound spent on public services finds its way back into the local economy. Not to mention the fact that 92 per cent of the cost of employing a public sector worker is recouped through increased tax revenues and reduced benefits payments.

“The workforce is shrinking at an alarming rate and creating very special problems for the workers who are left behind, as they try to keep the plates spinning on deteriorating Scottish public services.”


Notes to editors

For further information:

  • UNISON Scotland’s Public Works blog ‘Job losses and an ageing workforce spell trouble for services

  • UNISON Scotland’s Briefing – ‘Scottish Public Sector Workforce’


Useful links

  • Audit Scotland – Scotland’s Public sector Workforce

  • ONS Public sector Workforce in Scotland

  • Annual survey of hours and earnings

  • Low wages and growing debt in 2014

  • Cutting public sector jobs and pay

For further information contact:
Dave Watson, UNISON’s head of bargaining and campaigns, on 07958 122 409