THE BLOG

Holding Down Public Servants' Pay Is Now An Electoral Liability Not A Responsible Spending Policy

26/06/2017 07:00
Antenna via Getty Images

No-one can fail to be impressed - and moved - by the dedication on show from our brilliant emergency services in recent weeks. Our heroic firefighters - returning again and again to try to get people out of Grenfell Tower. Medical, nursing and admin staff working together to respond as the first victims of the Westminster, Manchester and London attacks arrived in ambulances. Police officers putting themselves in danger to protect us - not least a lone British Transport Police officer facing up to three attackers on London Bridge armed with only a baton.

In every case, those people racing to help and to protect their fellow citizens showed the best of Britain.

And standing behind them are millions of other public servants, quietly running the overstretched but vital services we all rely on. Whether it be buildings inspectors, jobcentre workers, 999 control centre staff, midwives, teachers, leisure centre attendants, prison officers, carers, teaching assistants, hospital and school cleaners or the support staff that make it all run smoothly - all of them are dedicated to their work and to the communities they serve.

But for seven years now, none of them have had a proper payrise. A firefighter today is earning £2000 less in real terms than they were in 2010. A midwife has seen their pay cut in real terms by £3000. Imagine taking home three thousand pounds less per year - when rents are rising and the money in your pocket stretches less and less far.

No wonder that the public sector union Unison found that shocking numbers of healthcare staff were having to use foodbanks, payday lenders and pawnshops. They talked to 21,000 healthcare workers - and found that more than two thirds (67%) said they had either sought financial help or made major changes to their standards of living in the past 12 months. And similar stories emerge from across the public sector.

Let's be clear: a modest payrise is not unaffordable. The IFS have proved that. If public sector workers saw their earnings rise by inflation over the next five years, it would add just 1% to annual departmental spending. And it would pay for itself through a local economic boost - not least in the UK's poorest regions - and through a higher tax take.

For years the government has unreasonably ignored the plight of public sector workers who just want the payrise they work hard for.

But - as with so many issues - the election campaign and its aftermath has changed the debate. Beaten Conservative MPs tell tales of being tackled on the doorstep by teachers and nurses angry that their pay was being artificially held down - and losing votes because of it. In recent weeks, Michael Gove, Jeremy Hunt and Iain Duncan Smith have all cast doubt on how much longer artificial limits on public sector pay can last.

Rather than being seen as a responsible spending policy, holding down public servants' pay is now an electoral liability. The post-election poll that the TUC publishes today shows that 76% of all voters supported giving public sector workers the payrise they deserve. And that wasn't just among Labour voters. Changing this unfair policy was supported by 68% of Conservative voters - including a huge 80% of those crucial swing voters who considered switching to Labour during the campaign.

That's why it's time to end real terms pay cuts for all public sector workers. 5.5m hardworking public servants need it. Labour, the Lib Dems and the SNP promised it. Conservative voters want it. Her own MPs are persuaded of it. The PM should just tell the Treasury to get on with it.

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