5 reasons the government’s public service pay cap offer is a con

Published date
13 Sep 2017
The papers today are full of stories about two new pay offers for public servants, and the government’s claim that this finally breaks their hugely unpopular pay cap policy. Once you start to look at the small print however, there are big problems with what’s on offer.  

1: It’s not on offer for most people

Firstly it’s only for a few public servants, police and prison officers. Ministers trailed weeks back that they might be looking at other groups, like nurses, and at the time we called them out on it. They can’t get away with a pick-and-mix approach, to make it look like they’re dealing with this, but still do nothing for the vast majority of workers.

Everyone in public services, locally and nationally, front line and back room alike, has been losing real wages for 7 years now. It’s been unfair on everyone, and an offer that only applies to a few of them is equally unfair. We’re not going to go for offers that play different groups of workers off against each other.

2: It’s still actually a pay cut

All the emotive reporting around “busting the pay cap” misses a larger point here. Both the offers made are still below inflation. That means that police and prison officers are still going to be ending the year with their wages worth less than they were at the start.

Prison officers have been offered 1.7%. Inflation is 2.9%. That’s still making things worse, not making them better.

3: They’re taking it away again afterwards

The police offer is being reported as 2%. It’s still actually 1% (the pay cap level), but with an added 1% bonus for this year, as a one-off reward for a difficult year. That means they lose it again the year after, and when they come to calculate subsequent pay offers it won’t count as a base level, like normal pay. It won’t count towards their pensions either, like a normal pay rise would.

And at the same time, the government have said that pay restraint will still be needed in future years. So public servants can still look forward to losing money each year into the future, despite this offer.

4: It’s not new money

The government’s statement says that this is being funded out of existing departmental budgets. The Chancellor isn’t helping them to find new cash to sort the problem.

Public servants are a dedicated lot, and care about the services they’re providing, and the difference they make to people’s lives. None of them will want to see cuts made to those services.

It seemed easy enough for the Chancellor to find new money for the DUP’s wish list – It just needed the political will to do it. And as we found in our poll earlier this year, a clear majority of the public (and 68% of Conservative voters) would be okay with increased taxes if it were needed to pay public servants more fairly.

5: It’s not going to make up for 7 years of losses

When our trainee nurses report they’re going to foodbanks, you know things are very wrong. As prices have risen, 7 years of zero- or below-inflation pay rises have meant that public servants have lost thousands of pounds in the value of their wages. With firefighters, council workers, teachers and civil services earning up to £3k less in real terms today than they were in 2010. We need to see a rise that starts to restore the value of public servants’ pay, not one that continues to erode it.

The Prison Officers’ Association’s Steve Gillam was right to say this was a “smoke and mirrors” offer. And our public servants can’t be expected to live on smoke. Unions have been united at TUC Congress that we need to push the government together for a vastly better offer than this.

Please help us keep up the pressure by joining our rally in London on 17 October, or by writing an email to your MP right now.