Whitehall departments handed out £29.57 million to staff in restaurant and shopping vouchers in the middle of a pay freeze, according to data provided to Labour.
Sixteen Whitehall departments handed out “reward and recognition” vouchers in 2021-22, a third more than the previous year and two thirds more than in 2018-19.
Most received their rewards in the form of Edenred vouchers which can be spent everywhere from Argos and Greggs to John Lewis and Nando’s.
Labour’s shadow cabinet office minister Florence Eshalomi said: “No-one would dispute that hard working civil servants deserve to be recognised for their efforts, especially those who went the extra mile during the pandemic, but once again, what we see in these figures is a Tory government guilty of rank double standards.
“At the same time that ministers are refusing even to discuss the subject of pay with our nation’s nurses, we now discover they got around their own pay freeze last year by giving out record numbers of non-cash vouchers to Whitehall staff instead.”
Prime minister Sunak has said he is “sad” and “disappointed” about widespread strike action over pay, including by nurses, but he insists that refusing to negotiate is the “right thing” in the long term.
The biggest spender was the foreign office with £9.9 million, which was up 16.6% over the past four years.
Next was the home office with £6.6m worth of vouchers, compared to £2.8 million in 2020-21 and £1.2 million in 2018-19.
The department of work and pensions was third with £5.9 million, in a 15% increase since 2018-19, while the ministry of justice took fourth after more than doubling its £2.1 million from four years ago to £4.9 million.
The ministry of defence, the department for environment, food and rural affairs and the ministry of health have refused to provide figures for their voucher programmes.