Under pressure, underfunded and undervalued

Laying bare the experiences of UNISON members working in councils and schools, delivering the local services we all rely on

UNISON’s recent survey of over 2,200 members working in a range of local government occupations reveals a shocking picture of what life is like for those delivering the services we all rely on.

Teaching assistants, social workers, librarians, carers, professionals and youth workers all say the same thing – stress is through the roof and they’re struggling with ever-increasing workloads.

  • 75% say workload and pressure have increased in the last 12 months.
  • 63% believe morale has declined.
  • 73% report rising stress levels.

Over half of our members report that stress in the workplace is affecting their job performance and personal life.

As our councils and schools are overwhelmed by an increasing public demand for the services they provide, it’s no surprise that three-quarters of workers face increasing expectations from service users and employers.

Committed to their jobs yet overwhelmingly undervalued, nearly 60% are regularly working beyond their contracted hours and almost a quarter are working unpaid overtime every week to keep our services running.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to recognise that such unrelenting pressure has a knock-on effect upon local services.

Really worrying, too, is the staggering increase in bullying taking place in the workplace.

When we last carried out this survey in 2008, 44% of our members reported facing at least one form of abuse such as violence, verbal or physical threats, and bullying or harassment.

Today, 60% tell us they face such abuse.

Alongside this picture of neglect, 63% have faced a review or job reorganisation, leading to cuts in staffing and resources in many cases.

Services seem to be in constant upheaval as councils struggle to balance budgets and the workforce. Service users and our communities are paying the price.

Finally, as if all this bad news wasn’t enough, those left behind after jobs have been axed must survive on unfairly low pay that is worse than in any other part of the public sector.

In the survey, 60% of our members told us they are finding it more difficult these days to pay for food.

Essential needs don’t come much more basic than this – it is unacceptable that some local authorities have been forced by austerity to deny their employees the living wage.

We know our members play a crucial role in sustaining local communities in difficult times. We think they deserve a better deal. Let’s face it; if you neglect the people who deliver our services, everyone suffers.

Download a summary of the report (12pp)

Download the full report (100pp)


The report was researched and written or UNISON by Incomes Data Resarch. It is based usable responses from 2,210 UNISON members working in local government services. Most (56%) worked for local authorities, and a further large proportion (34%) worked in schools. Some 2% worked in further education or sixth-form colleges, 1.6% in nursing or residential care homes and 0.8% worked for private contractors.