Years of a Tory-imposed pay cap has resulted in many public sector workers cutting back on food and borrowing from family and friends to make ends meet, according to a new survey by Unison.

Released to coincide with the start of Unison’s national conference in Brighton, the survey highlights how years of wage restraint have left many public sector workers struggling from paycheck to paycheck.

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis is calling on the new government to lift the 1% pay cap, which would otherwise remain in force until 2019, and argues that seven years of austerity has damaged public services and communities across Britain.

The survey of more than 6,500 public services employees including paramedics, teaching assistants, council workers and police staff, found that more than three quarters (77%) have cut back on food shopping over the last year, while 52% have borrowed from family and friends.

16% have had to turn to debt advice services and 7% have taken out payday loans to cover financial shortfalls between paychecks.

A small number of respondents admitted to having to use food banks (110), while more than one in ten (11%) had skipped meals to feed their children.

Nearly a quarter (24%) did not know how they would cope with unexpected expenses, such as car expenses or a boiler breakdown, and 21% simply said they would have to go without.

Four in ten said they couldn’t afford to put money away in savings and 29% regularly spent more than they took home in wages.

Dave Prentis has joined with other senior health union leaders in calling on Theresa May to drop the 1% cap on wage increases and give public sector workers a “long overdue” pay rise.

Dave Prentis said: “Seven long years ago nurses, school meals staff, social workers, PCSOs and other public service employees were told to tighten their belts as the government said it had to freeze and squeeze their wages to pay down the deficit.

“As a result public sector workers have seen their incomes fall drastically in real terms, and with inflation on the rise this means real financial hardship.

“A modern caring society should not allow those who look after people when they’re ill, help educate our children or keep the public safe on the streets to be treated in this shoddy way.

“And it’s not just individual employees or their families who suffer either. The government’s harsh pay policies have left hospitals, schools, town halls and police forces struggling to attract new staff and hold onto experienced employees. Public services and public sector workers always step up when they’re needed.

“Enough is enough. The election result showed that people have had enough of austerity and the damage being wreaked on public services and communities.

“The one per cent cap has already been breached by wage awards to MPs, and top judges and civil servants. Now it’s time to lift it for everyone else in the public sector, and give dedicated staff a decent, and long overdue, pay rise.”