No u-turns sign outside Parliament (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)
Public servants don’t care about political games – They just need a pay rise
Will she, won’t she? Theresa May’s position on pay for public service workers has been all over the place this week.
On Wednesday we had a surprise announcement that the government might be considering an end to its policy of capping public sector pay. But hours later, a spectacular double-u-turn saw her whip her MPs to vote down a Labour amendment to the Queen’s speech that would do just that. Now there are rumours circulating that she might be preparing to reverse course yet again later this year.
Few public service workers will be holding their breath for change here. They’ve already seen 7 years of capped or frozen pay, with pay rises below inflation meaning that their wages have lost value every year as they are outpaced by rising prices. Many have seen £2,000 wiped off the value of their wages.
The General Election sent a very clear message to Theresa May that voters are concerned about the future of our public services and the value that we place on hardworking staff delivering those services. The TUC and GQRR ran a poll in the days after the election. It showed that over three quarters of voters support a public sector pay rise, even if it means paying higher taxes. This has been a priority for unions for years, but now we know 68% of Conservative voters feel it’s time for a pay rise too.
The public’s heartfelt thanks to the bravery and dedication of health and emergency service workers in the wake of terror attacks in London and Manchester and the Grenfell Tower tragedy brought this into sharp focus. How can it be right that a firefighter willing to risk their life saving others is now earning less in real terms than they were in 2010?
Not only is this unfair to public servants, it is doesn’t do service users and tax payers any favours either. From hospitals, to schools and prisons, employers are increasingly finding it hard to recruit and retain qualified staff as pay rates in the public sector decline in value. NHS Employers have been talking of their staff leaving to work in supermarkets for more pay.
This is leading to staff shortages that compromise quality and, in many cases, safety. Increasingly, employers are having to rely on the costly and inefficient use of agency labour that adds billions to already stretched budgets.
Few outside the Cabinet or Treasury believe that the public sector pay cap is either justified or sustainable. And now it is beginning to act as an obstacle not only to public service reform but also to meeting the government’s aim of creating an economy that works for all.
Extra pay going into public sector worker’s pockets means more spending power in local economies. We estimate the government’s restrictions on public sector wages have led to almost £2bn being sucked out of the economy of the North East of England alone.
Analysis by the IFS shows that this is affordable too. If public sector workers’ saw their earnings rise by the rate of inflation over the lifetime of this parliament, it would add just 1% to annual departmental spending – paying for itself through boosting economies and increasing tax revenue.
Public sector workers have earned the right to fair pay. The government’s public sector pay policy is harmful and self-defeating. The government say that they will reflect on the concerns indicated by voters in the general election. Working people spoke clearly in the election – government policy should reflect that.
UPDATE 3 July: The plot thickens. Now government ministers Boris Johnson and Michael Gove have called for change over public sector pay (though we hope they don’t write it on a bus this time), as have Jeremy Hunt and Justine Greening.
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