Health and education dominate shrinking public sector

Published on Friday, 14 February 2014 09:33
Written by Daniel Mason

Staff in schools and the NHS could account for more than 70 per cent of the UK's public sector workforce by 2018 if those departments continue to be protected while others feel the impact of austerity, the Institute for Fiscal Studies has said.

In a report published today, the IFS said the proportion of government employees working in education and health had already risen from 42 per cent in 1991 to 57 per cent today – and would likely continue to grow.

The research revealed that the country's 5.4 million public sector workers made up less than 19 per cent of total employment in mid-2013, the lowest proportion for at least 40 years.

That could fall to 15 per cent by if the expected 1.1 million total reduction in the government workforce between 2010 and 2018 – the biggest cut in 50 years – is fully delivered.

The independent thinktank said the changes would dwarf the cut in numbers seen in the 1990s and more than undo the increase in public sector employment that took place in the 2000s.

As a result, completely protecting education and health from the cuts would mean other areas of the government workforce would have to shrink by 40 per cent to deliver the Office for Budget Responsibilities' forecast 1.1 million reduction, the IFS said.

Meanwhile 6 per cent cuts to those two departments over the next five years would still require other areas to bear cuts of 30 per cent.

Jonathan Cribb, a research economist at the IFS, said: "The workforce is a useful prism through which to look at the effects of cutting total spending whilst protecting the NHS and schools budgets from cuts.

"With limited falls in the health and education workforces the number of public sector workers in other areas could fall by 30 to 40 per cent over the next five years."

The report also showed that women now make up two-thirds of the public sector workforce and that would likely increase because more women than men work in protected areas such as health and education.

Wales has the highest proportion of public sector workers and London the smallest, the IFS said.

In a boost to the government's claim that it is rebalancing the economy, private sector employment rose in each region by more than the fall in public sector employment, according to the study, which was funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

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