Coronavirus: Above-inflation pay rise for almost 900,000 public sector workers

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Almost 900,000 public sector workers are to get an above-inflation pay rise, including doctors and teachers.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said he recognised their "vital contribution" during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Treasury said the money for the pay increases of up to 3.1% would come from existing departmental budgets.

But Labour said the rise would not make up for years of real-terms cuts and the British Medical Association said doctors had hoped for "far better".

Later, Mr Sunak warned that the government must "exercise restraint" in future public sector pay awards.

He said this while launching the 2020 comprehensive spending review, which is to be published in the autumn.

'Rely on them'

Nurses are not included in Tuesday's announcement because they negotiated a separate three-year deal in 2018.

The rise does also not apply to junior doctors, who agreed a new four-year pay deal last year.

Not all settlements will be UK-wide.

  • Teachers in England, and dentists and doctors across the UK will see the largest increases at 3.1% and 2.8% respectively
  • Police, prison officers and National Crime Agency staff in England and Wales will be given a 2.5% rise in pay, while members of the armed forces across the UK will get 2%
  • Members of the judiciary and senior civil servants across the UK will also see their pay topped up by 2%.

Mr Sunak said: "These past months have underlined what we always knew, that our public sector workers make a vital contribution to our country and that we can rely on them when we need them.

"It's right, therefore, that we follow the recommendations of the independent pay bodies with this set of real-terms pay rises."

More than 300 NHS workers have died in England alone after contracting coronavirus, many doing so while caring for patients.

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But shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds said the Conservatives had frozen public sector pay for seven years, and the rises they introduced after that failed to plug the gap.

She said the pay rise was "good news" but added that it "won't make up for a decade of real-term pay cuts" for many front-line workers.

"Many other public sector workers - including those working on the front line in social care - won't get a pay rise out of this at all because the Tories haven't made good on their promises to boost local authority funding," the Labour MP said.

"That's not fair - and it's no way to reward those who've been at the forefront of fighting this pandemic."

Social worker Maureen Cummins told the BBC she felt cheated that she was not getting a pay rise, saying those in her current profession and her previous career as a nurse have been chronically underpaid for years.

'Sidestepping' social care pay

Kit Malthouse, the crime and policing minister, said the vast majority of social care workers were employed in the private sector so the government's "ability to influence pay rates there is limited".

However, some social care providers accused the government of sidestepping the issue of low pay for social care staff.

Mark Adams, chief executive of the charity Community Integrated Care, said it was a matter of "national shame" that social care workers had been on the front line during the coronavirus pandemic on minimum wage salaries.

Vic Rayner, executive director at the National Care Forum - which represents 120 of the UK's social care charities - said it was "unacceptable" for the government to "sidestep" the issue, adding that care workers had been "a stalwart of the Covid front line and need recognition".

Analysis

By BBC business correspondent, Dharshini David

After several months of sweating it out on the front line of an unprecedented crisis, this is some welcome news for almost a million key public sector workers.

But economists say that once inflation is stripped out, average pay for public sector workers remains below levels seen in 2010, due to pay freezes, or very modest increases, in the years of austerity that followed.

And departments won't get extra funding to pay for these rises, a reminder that the government is still having to watch the pennies and pounds as it faces the biggest deficit in its finances in peacetime.

The Treasury claims the pay awards are assessed for affordability; that they shouldn't affect the provision of public services.

But budgets are already under pressure in some areas - in schools, for example, where extra costs may have arisen and income streams from the likes of clubs may have disappeared. In those cases, these pay rises might well pose some tough questions.

Every year, independent pay review bodies recommend pay rises for sectors, and the government said it had accepted all of their suggestions for 2020-21.

'Kick in the teeth'

Dr David Wrigley, vice-chairman of the British Medical Association, said doctors would feel "disappointed and let down" by the announcement as pay "has fallen way behind" where it should be and "we were hoping for far better" than the 2.8% increase.

He told BBC Breakfast: "These are the sort of rises we'd expect to see in normal times, not in a time when many of us have not had a day off in six months and have been putting our lives on the line."

Some teachers' unions have welcomed the offer for newly qualified teachers but said they were disappointed by the pay award for more experienced staff.

Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said raising starting salaries by 5.5% had made the profession "more attractive to graduates" but the prospect of salaries "tapering off as they progress" meant it would be difficult to retain teachers.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said it was a "kick in the teeth" for "long-serving teachers".

'Tough choices'

The comprehensive spending review is carried out about every three years to allocate funding to government departments so they can plan ahead.

For the 2020 review, the Treasury said one of the priorities would be "strengthening the UK's economic recovery from Covid-19 by prioritising jobs and skills".

But it added: "Given the impact Covid-19 has had on the economy, the chancellor was clear there will need be tough choices in other areas of spending at the review."

And Mr Sunak told ministers: "In the interest of fairness we must exercise restraint in future public sector pay awards, ensuring that, across this year and the spending review period, public sector pay levels retain parity with the private sector".

Labour's shadow treasury chief secretary Bridget Phillipson said: "The choices made this autumn will determine whether our economy and society can rise to the challenges ahead.

"The government must not respond to this crisis with more spending cuts - which resulted in the slowest economic recovery in eight generations."

And TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "It's hard to see how public sector workers can trust ministers after this cynical ploy to disguise plans for more pay restraint.

"In the last decade, we learned the hard way that austerity and pay restraint slow down recovery."

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