Key workers feel burned-out and unsupported by public and government - RSA

Key workers feel burned-out and unsupported by public and government

Press release

  • Future of Work

A ‘new deal’ for key workers — including a £500 thank you bonus, extended sick pay and paying the real living wage — is needed to reward them for their heroic efforts during the pandemic, a report says.  

Frontline Fatigue by the royal society for arts, manufactures and commerce (RSA) warns of widespread stress and disillusionment with the public.  

It warns that half of key workers fear they will soon “burnout” — rising to 63% in the NHS.   

Meanwhile just 31% feel supported by government and 35% by the general public, though 68% feel supported by their employer.  

Supermarket workers feel the least supported, with 68% think the public is letting them down. NHS workers are the most likely to feel supported.  

The poll of key workers carried out by YouGov for the report, which was jointly funded by Standard Life Foundation and the Trust for London, also finds: 

  • 49% of key workers, rising to 63% of NHS staff and 58% of social carers, think it is “likely” or “very likely” they will “burnout” this winter. Almost a quarter (24%) of NHS staff say burnout is “very likely”.  
  • Women are feeling the worst effects in terms of mental health: 67% say it has made maintaining their mental health more difficult, versus 47% of men  
  • Among those who say their mental health has been badly affected by the pandemic, 73% say they are feeling low, 62% are missing sleep, 26% have been drinking more, 63% report higher levels of anxiety than before the pandemic, and 23% fear going into work. This all suggests very serious issues with attendance and performance without adequate support. 
  • But just 31% think the UK government is doing enough to support them, and only 35% think the same of the public, though 68% who think their employer is doing enough. Two-thirds of supermarket workers feel they are not supported by the public, suggesting the need for supermarket workers to be considered as part of the government and public response. 
  • Overall, 59% think the government is handling the Covid-19 crisis badly: among 2019 Conservative voters, just 36% think the government is handling the crisis well and 33% badly.  

The RSA calls for a ‘new deal’ for key workers, and suggests a new online sales tax’ on Amazon, and a levy on PPE ‘pandemic profiteers’, to pay for the package – which would include: 

  • A one-off payment of £500 as a reward for the hard work and sacrifices made by key workers during the pandemic. This is nspired by Joe Biden’s hazard payments to emergency workers, which helped win him the support of many blue-collar Americans.  
  • The introduction of enhanced Statutory Sick Pay for all workers, especially for key workers who would not currently qualify (for instance, care workers on zero-hour contracts). Eligibility would be capped at the same upper limit as the furlough scheme’s £2500 per month, and paid through the furlough system, meaning the top amount received by any worker would be capped at £1250 for two weeks’ self-isolation. 
  • Mandating the Real Living Wage for all key workers (currently £9.50 outside London and £10.85 in the capital). The RSA’s analysis finds that 37% of social carers earn less than the Real Living Wage currently.  
  • A £250 million benevolent fund for those struggling with mental ill-health and personal/family emergencies. 
  • Anthony Painter, chief research and impact officer at the RSA, said: 
  • “Our survey shows key workers feel deeply let down by the government, with its approval rating falling to just 3 points among key workers who voted Conservative in 2019. 
  • "But they feel especially let down by the public too, with supermarket workers especially feeling unsupported.  
  • “Rishi Sunak has a chance to put this right, which is why we’re calling for a new deal for key workers, inspired by Joe Biden’s election-winning proposals for blue collar 'hero pay’.  
  • “It’s only right that those who’ve profited from the pandemic – including online sales giants like Amazon, and those selling PPE – should help support the heroes who’ve kept us safe and fed.” 

Mubin Haq, Chief Executive of Standard Life Foundation, said: 

“We have all been heavily reliant on key workers. They’ve worked tirelessly but now the strain is showing, with half fearing ‘burnout’ this winter. Our key workers feel government has failed to provide enough support, that it’s not doing the right thing by them. Improvement to pay and conditions have been needed for many years. No more excuses, we must act.” 

Manny Hothi, Director of Policy, Trust for London, said: 

“While a vaccine brings some light at the end of the tunnel, we still have a tough winter to get through. Key workers will be essential to ensuring that our health and social care services cope under pressure, and that we can live our daily lives with a minimal amount of disruption. It is not right that our health and security during the pandemic is built on the backs of low-paid workers who themselves lack the same protection. The Government needs to act now to improve the economic security of key workers.” 



All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1,281 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 4 and 10 November 2020.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative key workers in GB (aged 18+).  

For BME groups, it should be noted that the sample size is relatively small, and that this group is comprised of all non-white groups.  


Ash Singleton, [email protected], 07799 737 970  


The RSA (from August 2020, the royal society for arts, manufactures and commerce) is an independent charity, committed to a future that works for everyone. A future where we can all participate in its creation.  

The RSA has been at the forefront of significant social impact for over 260 years. Our proven change process, rigorous research, innovative ideas platform and diverse global community of more than 30,000 problem solvers, deliver solutions for lasting change.   

Legally, the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (‘RSA’) is a Royal Charter Company and registered charity in England and Wales (charity number 212424) and in Scotland (charity number SC037784). 

This work is generously supported by grants from Standard Life Foundation and Trust for London.  

Standard Life Foundation funds policy work, campaigning and research to tackle financial problems and improve living standards for people on low-to-middle incomes in the UK. It is an independent charitable foundation registered in Scotland. 

Related articles