Refusing public sector workers a pay rise could have cost the Tories their overall majority at the general election.
Theresa May’s Conservatives lost 13 seats in a catastrophic night for her party last week and she is now bidding to hang on to power by striking a deal with the DUP.
But had she offered teachers and nurses a better deal on their pay packet, she may have averted disaster.
A new analysis by the GMB union has shown that, in more than 80% of the constituencies the Tories lost to other parties, public sector workers outstripped the majority.
In seats like Kensington, Bath and Brighton Kemptown, the union says, thousands of under-pressure workers turned their back on Theresa May and made a crucial difference for her rivals.
Gavin Barwell - the housing minister turned Number 10 chief of staff - may even have fallen victim to the trend. He lost Croydon Central to Labour’s Sarah Jones by 5,652 but the GMB says there are more than 12,800 public sector staff living in the area.
Other high-profile electoral casualties were Ben Gummer, a Cabinet Office minister, and former northern powerhouse minister James Wharton,
Theresa May campaigned on keeping the 1% cap on public sector pay rises in place but Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and the Lib Dems’ Tim Farron pledged to end the wage freeze.
Rehana Azam, GMB National Secretary for Public Services said: “The 1% cap is sucking the lifeblood out of our public services. Theresa May should realise the catastrophic damage her refusal to change course on her pay pinch has done to teaching assistants, local government workers and dedicated NHS staff. It’s time to kill this vampiric policy once and for all.”
“Too many public sector workers are stressed, overworked, squeezed by pension hikes, at risk of job cuts – and, yes, underpaid. They need fair compensation to catch-up with almost a decade of cuts to their living standards, which is why the joint local government and school support staff unions are demanding a pay award of at least 5 per cent.”
“Since 2010, the Conservatives have thought they could squeeze public sector workers till the pips squeaked. No more. Whether it’s through quiet contributions every day, or the heroism of our emergency services during moments of national tragedy, the public sector has proved its worth.”
The election result has raised hopes that the government could rethink its pay policy. Outspoken Tory MP Anna Soubry is among those who have urged the Prime Minister to budge.
Former civil service head Lord Bob Kerslake has also since warned, following the General Election, that “the consensus on public-sector pay will have to be revised”.
Unions are submitting a new pay claim for local government employees in schools and councils. It comes as inflation hit a near four-year high of 2.9% this week.
They will call, from next April, for the lowest paid staff to move onto the real living wage of £8.45 an hour (£9.75 in London). In addition, the unions want all employees to receive a 5% pay rise.