Since the government took office, ministers have either frozen public sector pay or limited pay increases to well below the cost of living, leaving local government workers, NHS staff, teachers, firefighters, civil servants and other public servants on average £2,245 worse off in real terms, says the Trades UNion Congress (TUC).
The figures were published the day before local authority employees in England, Wales and Northern Ireland took part in a day-long protest (10 July) over continuing public sector pay restraint and ministers’ determination to hold down pay even though the economy is growing again.
Council employees and workers across the public sector are angry and upset that despite the improving economic situation, the government is set to keep the lid on their pay – with the prospect of pay increases below the cost of living until at least 2018.
With over 450,000 workers in local government earning less than the living wage, many low-paid workers will have taken a difficult decision to lose a day’s pay this week, says the TUC. But with ministers failing to listen to their concerns, they – and other public sector workers – feel that there is no other alternative open to them.
With the RPI measure of inflation currently 2.4 per cent – and likely to rise over the coming year – a combination of pay freezes and pay rises below the rate that prices are rising has left household budgets stretched to the limit, says the TUC.
According to recent research published by the TUC, the government’s "mean-spirited approach to public sector" pay has had a huge impact on the spending power of almost six million households in the UK where at least one family member works in the public sector.
Having struggled to make ends meet for the past four years as their pay lagged behind prices, the news that workers in local government and elsewhere in the public sector may have to wait another four years before their pay prospects start to revive will hit morale hard, says the TUC.
The TUC has also looked at how the pay of specific jobs in local government has been squeezed over the last four years by calculating how much worse off council employees will be in real terms by the end of this year than they would have been had their pay increased in line with RPI inflation since April 2010 and gives the following examples:
• A home help who has been at the top of her pay scale for four years was earning £13,189 at the beginning of 2010. She is now earning £13,621 – an increase of just £432 since 2010. But had her pay increased in line with inflation, she would now be earning £15,820 – which means that she has lost out on £2,199 in real terms.
• Under the same analysis, a refuse collector on the top of his pay scale has missed out on £2,950 in real terms. He was earning £16,440 in 2010 and is now on £16,770 – an actual increase of just £330.
• A nursery assistant who has reached the top of his pay scale and is now paid £18,824 has only seen his pay rise by £371 since the government came to office. Had his pay increased in line with RPI, he would now be earning £22,134 – a loss of £3,310 in real terms.
• A residential warden in sheltered accommodation – who has also reached the top of her pay scale – is short of £4,853 in real terms. In 2010 she was on £27,052, and now earns £27,596 – an increase of just £544 over the last four years.
The TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The economy may be picking up, but having paid the price in pay freezes and below inflation pay increases for several years there is to be no financial let up for town hall employees and other public sector workers. For them there are no shares to be had in the UK’s economic recovery. Instead several more years of penny-pinching and frugal living lie ahead.
“In local government – and right across the public sector – workers believe that ministers neither care about nor understand the pressures on their already stretched household budgets.
“Meanwhile the government seems happy for the public purse to miss out on billions through income tax cuts for the wealthy and corporation tax reductions for big businesses, yet says there’s no money to give a decent pay rise to struggling care assistants, nursery workers, dinner ladies and other local authority employees.
“It won’t have been an easy decision for hard-pressed public sector workers to vote to lose a day’s pay this week, nor will they take delight in any disruption caused to the public. But if the government continues to hold down pay, our public services will struggle to hold onto and recruit skilled and dedicated staff. When that happens we all pay the price."
She concluded: “Spending cuts, attacks on their pay and pensions, thousands of posts lost through redundancies – all have taken their toll on a demoralised public sector workforce. Public servants have understandably had enough – now is the time for ministers to start listening and to realise that it was never going to be possible to keep the lid on the public sector forever.”