Tomorrow’s Budget presents an excellent opportunity for gaffe-prone chancellor Philip Hammond to give public sector workers, battered by pay austerity since 2010, a generous pay rise.
Since the Tories came to power in 2010, they have continually targeted the public sector for swingeing cuts that have left the workforce with eroding pay packets as they try to do more with fewer resources.
June’s general election showed that the public has rejected the obsession with the blinkered ideology of austerity and voted for a loosening of the purse strings, so there is more investment in the NHS, education, local government and infrastructure projects.
To make this happen, the public sector needs a generous pay settlement in the budget to catch up on the pay they have lost in real terms since 2010 and attract the dedicated staff we need to sustain vital public services.
Such pay rises need to be properly funded i.e. ‘new’ money and not taken from existing allocated budgets.
The Chancellor, who was in political hot water after claiming there were ‘no unemployed people in the UK, was the focus of an open letter earlier this week from public sector trade union leaders – including Unite general secretary Len McCluskey - calling for the end of ‘the pay misery’ for five million workers providing public services.
Since 2013, most annual public sector pay rises have been limited to an average of one per cent a year, however, inflation is far outstripping pay rises. The consumer prices index (CPI) was three per cent in October.
Public sector workers are, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), more skilled and experienced, yet pay packets are shrinking with every passing month and they are now worse off than private sector counterparts.
The Chancellor is likely to confirm the end of the pay cap and dangle the possibility of pay increases for some public sector workers on Wednesday – but these may be linked to productivity. What new data from the ONS shows is that, for example, the NHS is already benefiting from heightened skills and experience – thus – better productivity.
In local government cuts have reduced staff numbers to breaking point. ‘Enough is enough’ - there is a limit to how far workers can be pushed to do more for less.
A vibrant and well-resourced public sector, a mark of a mature country, is vital to the economic and social well-being of the UK – nurses, teachers, fire fighters and refuse collectors provide those services on a daily basis, often in challenging environments.
Tomorrow pay justice for these dedicated workers needs to be a key announcement in the Chancellor’s speech.