What has happened to pay in the UK?

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Member of the PCS union on strikeImage source, PA Media

Wages have failed to keep up with the rising cost of living for many UK workers, prompting a wave of strikes in recent months.

Figures suggest the picture is much worse in some professions than others, with teachers and nurses seeing more pay lost to inflation than workers in other sectors.

BBC News analysed salary figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) for the last 10 years to see how wages in different professions compare to the overall average, and to find out how far pay for train drivers, paramedics, civil servants and others, has kept up with prices.

What is the average employee paid?

Over the last decade, the wage of an average full-time employee in the UK has risen by about a quarter, to £33,000 in April 2022. That is almost in line with rising prices, falling just £230 short of matching inflation.

You can see average pay in a range of sectors using this interactive chart.

This is an average across each job category captured in the ONS survey, some of which include many different individual jobs. It may also include both those with and without London weighting in the average. The survey is made up of both public and private sector workers.

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Image source, Getty Images

The average salary for secondary school teachers has fallen behind rising prices by nearly £4,500 over the last 10 years: one of the largest drops of the careers examined.

The average secondary teacher earns more than the average overall worker: just under £41,000 last April. But had this salary kept pace with rising prices over this period, this figure would be more than £45,000.

The ONS does not produce data for every type of teacher. But the picture for "teaching professionals" overall, which includes primary schools and university teaching staff, looks very similar to what has happened in secondary schools. They have an average wage of about £41,000 but this is nearly £5,000 behind the rise in prices since 2012.

Junior doctors

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Junior doctors are asking for a 35% pay rise

The average earnings for a junior doctor in England in the year to March 2022 was just over £55,000, according to a separate analysis by the Nuffield Trust.

The salaries of both junior and senior doctors are combined in the ONS's data, and so the BBC is not able to analyse them in the same way as other careers.

Senior doctors are not striking and are in the top 2% of earners in the UK.

Junior doctors earn well above the average salary in England, but the Nuffield Trust estimate that their pay has fallen behind inflation by nearly £5,000 since 2011.

This is a smaller fall than the headline figure used by the junior doctors' union, the BMA, but still larger than many other groups of workers, based on the ONS data.

Civil servants

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
PCS union members on strike at Cardiff Airport

The wages of the most junior civil servants, or "national government administrative occupations" as the ONS calls them, have kept up with rising prices, but they are not well off.

For this job category the average full-time salary is about £27,700 in the survey. That's nearly £1,300 more than if the salary had just been increased by inflation over the past decade. But it is still well below the national average.

This is also a very broad category which includes many different jobs within the civil service, both inside and outside London. For those in jobs on the lower end, starting salaries can be as lower, at about £21,000, but this isn't shown in the average for the broader category.

The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) say they've prioritised the wages of the least well off when negotiating with bosses in the civil service.

On the next rung up are mid-level "associate professionals". Their average salary is about £2,400 above the national average, but if it had kept pace with prices since 2012, it would be nearly £900 pounds higher still.

Who else is currently in negotiations?

There are other workers represented in the data who have been poised to take, or have taken, strike action over the past few months, such as physiotherapists, ambulance staff, nurses and rail workers. Some are currently in pay negotiations with their employers.

A new pay deal has been offered to NHS staff in England except doctors, which trade unions are recommending to members. Firefighters, who had threatened strike action, recently accepted a new pay deal.

Broadly, the average salary of a nurse is a few thousand pounds higher than the national average, but their pay has not kept up with rising prices.

For a full-time paramedic, the average salary is nearly 50% higher than the average worker's salary and has grown by about £3,000 more than prices in the last 10 years. Unions say part of that growth is due to NHS pay scales in 2016, where paramedics were moved up a band to reflect changes in their jobs.

Meanwhile, ambulance drivers and emergency medical technicians have been one of the hardest hit by inflation. They earned £27,500 as of 2022, which was nearly £1,600 less than if their pay had risen with inflation.

While train drivers do well, that's not true for all train workers. Rail travel assistants, a category which includes ticket inspectors and station attendants, saw a £300 drop in average pay versus inflation in the most recent figures.


The salary data used in this analysis comes from the latest Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE) from the ONS.

We used gross pay for the average full time worker in each profession - using the median average - comparing growth in that pay to inflation as measured by annual CPIH.

Nuffield Trust's figures were based on figures for NHS England and used a different measure of inflation called CPI that has grown slightly faster than CPIH.

Where job names or codes changed from one year to the next, we used this lookup tool developed by Warwick University to match jobs.

The coronavirus pandemic affected the survey figures for 2020 and 2021 due to various factors, including furlough. The ONS suggests treating these figures with greater caution.

The salary is the pay of the average worker, rather than a precise measure of terms and conditions, pay bands or starting salaries. It includes overtime, bonuses or allowances for anti-social hours and covers workers in the public or private sector. Increases can be caused by things other than raises. These include a shift in seniority (lower-paid workers leaving the profession) or in working hours (more people doing overtime).

The growth in average pay is likely to underestimate pay growth for an individual worker who may get promoted and move from being below-average to above-average within their profession.

In the chart at the top of the story we refer to "junior level" and "mid level" civil servants. The ASHE descriptions for these jobs are national government administrative occupations (junior) and public services associate professionals (mid).

Additional reporting by Becky Dale, Libby Rogers, Zoe Conway and Robert Cuffe