|A 2014 survey by the Fire Brigades Union found that a third of full-time firefighters had a second job.|
'I ran myself into the ground': life at the bottom end of the public sector pay scale: Many public services staff in the UK take on a second job just to survive. Here, some of them reveal what it’s like living with anxiety, zero-hours contracts and low pay. A 2014 Unison survey revealed that 80% of school support staff were concerned about workload, and 90% were worried about low pay. And a 2014 YouGov survey by the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) of almost 10,000 firemen found that a third of full-time firefighters had a second job.
So what impact does such insecurity and overworking have on people’s lives?
Mental health: An increase in zero-hours contracts has led to anxiety among employees uncertain of their weekly cashflow.
Physical health: Overworking can take its toll on physical wellbeing too – Greenwood took three weeks off work last year as a result of work-related illness, he says, but had to return for financial reasons. “I ran myself into the ground, but I need to work to get the money to do what I want,” he says. “It’s a double-edged blade.”
For those working long hours exercise often falls by the wayside, despite its importance in reducing stress, Donaldson-Feilder says. A lottery win for me would be to not work a second job so I could pick my children up from school and take them swimming.
A full-time firefighter and FBU representative, who runs a window cleaning business to help provide for his family, says he earns £30,000 a year but his large pension contributions mean his wage is comparable to a £22,000 job. “I’ll sometimes do window cleaning from 8am to 4pm, then do a firefighting night shift from 6pm to 9am,” he says. “I’d like a gym membership but there’s no point – I can’t afford it and I wouldn’t have time to go.”
Family life and relationships: The work-life balance can be significantly skewed when tackling two jobs. “There is a massive quality of life issue here,” says Mike Short, senior national officer for local government at Unison. “People take on a second job but should be spending time with family and friends.”
The firefighter says the biggest pressure he feels from holding down two jobs is missing out on time with his partner and four children. “A lottery win would be the opportunity to not work a second job so I could pick my children up from school and take them swimming,” he says. “Firefighting has a reasonably family-friendly work pattern, if only it paid more money.”
Donaldson-Feilder says maintaining support networks is crucial to prevent feelings of isolation. “Look for ways you can build in time for people who care about you and who are supportive of you,” she advises overworked staff. “If you don’t have a big social circle, get involved in activities that are altruistic in some way, such as at a local charity.”
And regardless of stressful working conditions, high pensions and pay cuts, altruism is the main reason many people continue to pursue a career in public services. “If I really pushed myself, I could probably earn enough money window cleaning,” says the firefighter. “But I love my job and many people join this profession and take a pay cut because it can be very rewarding.”