This week Prime Minister Theresa May confirmed that the 1% public sector pay cap would finally be lifted for police and prison officers. But why have nurses, teachers and the armed forces been excluded? Is it a case of the government playing the public sector off against one another, or the first step towards a fair pay rise for everyone?
Downing Street announced earlier this week that prison officers would get an average 1.7% pay rise and police officers will get extra pay totalling 2% for 2017-18.
The statement immediately led to calls for other public sector workers to get a pay rise.
Indeed in Parliament, the prime minister was humiliated after the Democratic Unionist Party, who in theory are supposed to be propping up the Conservative government, backed Labour motions in favour of increasing NHS pay and against a rise in tuition fees.
Lincoln MP Karen Lee has been particularly vocal about the pay cap, challenging Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt in the House of Commons to listen to what she was saying, and slamming the Conservatives for leaving NHS services badly short-staffed.
Afterwards, the newly elected Labour MP and former nurse told Lincolnshire Reporter: “I think the government’s decision to lift the pay cap for police and prison officers is smoke and mirrors and a divisive act for public sector workers.
“Labour has called for a lifting of the cap for all public sector workers and a fair pay rise.
“It is unclear whether or not the government will fully fund any award they give to police and prison officers and police authorities have only budgeted for a 1% increase so Police and Crime Commissioners could be faced with having to cut jobs and hold vacancies in order to balance the books.”
Fellow health professional, Sleaford and North Hykeham, Dr Caroline Johnson MP, was unavailable for comment on this issue, as her spokesperson said she was away on the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme.
However, in a column for Lincolnshire Reporter published this week, the consultant paediatrician said she was determined to improve better outcomes for the NHS.
She said: “I was incredibly proud to be voted in by my colleagues to the Health Select Committee. This committee is responsible for holding the Department of Health accountable for policies and spending. They engage in inquiries investigating particular health issues – from childhood obesity to improving air quality.
“As a consultant paediatrician, my experience of working in the NHS for many years gives me an invaluable insight into the issues facing it. I look forward to using my expertise in this area to achieve better outcomes for our health service.”
Dr Johnson’s Conservative colleague, Gainsborough MP Sir Edward Leigh, said that public sector pay restraint had been necessary due to the “disastrous state of the public finances”, the Conservatives inherited from the Labour Party.
He said: “Between 2001 and 2009 public sector pay rose on average, under the previous Labour government, by more than the CPI rate of inflation.
“With the change of government in 2010 up to 2014 the rate of inflation was higher than the average level of the increase in public sector pay.
“More recently in 2015 and 2016 public sector pay has been rising above the rate of inflation.
“Public sector pay restraint has been an important component of the response to the disastrous state of the public finances when Labour left office. However, such a policy can only be a short term lever on the economy and not become a way of life.
“Different parts of the public sector negotiate their pay settlements and most recently the police and prison staff have had their reviews and higher than the 1% cap settlements have been reached.
“Other parts of the public sector will in all likelihood get more generous settlements than they have had in recent years, once, as the prime minister has indicated, the cap is lifted next year in 2018.”
Boston and Skegness MP Matt Warman said that he was looking forward to other public sector workers receiving a pay rise soon.
He said: “The government has scrapped the cap on public sector pay – because of the way Pay Review Bodies report, the first beneficiaries of that welcome change in policy are police and prison officers and I look forward to seeing nurses, our military and a host of our other valuable public sector workers benefiting in due course.
“There will continue to be a need for the country to live within our means, but it is right to acknowledge the huge contribution made by the public sector to our country.”
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