More than a million NHS workers in England are estimated to get a pay increase, following seven years of having their salaries frozen then capped at 1 percent as part of the government’s belt-tightening plan.
This was dramatically cut because their pay was not keeping up with the growing expenses of living.
However, it’s not simply workers in the health service who’ve had their earnings reduced. Teachers, police officers, prison staff, firefighters and armed forces employees have all had real-term reductions in their salaries.
So does this NHS offer a spell the end of the cap on all public-sector workers’ earnings?
Firefighters, police and prison officers have now been offered salary increases in violation of the cap although the firefighters union has refused their salary proposal.
Police and prison officers, on the other hand, have accepted increases of 1 percent with a 1 percent gratuity, and 1.7 percent, respectively for the coming year.
There are two significant differences from the NHS proposal though.
First, the pay increases for NHS workers will be financed through additional money given by the Treasury. However, the police and prison officers’ salary increase will have to be financed from the current resources so sacrifices may have to be made in other regions of spending on the services.
Furthermore, NHS workers are getting an average of 6.5 percent over three years. However half of the nurses will get more than that, and the lowest paid NHS workers will get pay increases of as much as 29 percent. Therefore, numerous NHS staff wages will keep pace with the growing expense of living for the first time in seven years.
That’s not the case for police and prison officers.
Both of their salary proposals are under the 2.4 percent inflation rate forecast by the Office for Budget Responsibility for 2018.
Prison Officers Association general secretary Steve Gillan stated at the time: “I have made it clear that it is a pay cut. It is not acceptable.”
The Police Federation of England and Wales had asked for a 2.8 percent rise in basic salary. The Prison Officers Association had requested for a 5 percent rise and in July, firefighters were offered a 2 percent basic pay raise from last July, with a possible further 3 percent increase in line for this April.
However, this was refused by their union.
Fire Brigades Union general secretary Mark Wrack announced in July: “This offer demonstrates that the 1 percent cap is dead in the water but the offer from our employers is simply not enough.”
Both teachers and military employees are expecting to learn what their salary proposal will be for the coming year.
The armed forces are awaiting a report making suggestions on their pay imminently and on 15 January, Defence Minister Tobias Ellwood informed Parliament the armed forces had been liberated from the 1 percent pay freeze.
However, a letter from Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson stated there was still a need for pay discipline and the then Education Secretary, Justine Greening, wrote to the teachers’ pay review body in December, urging it to consider the necessity to address staff deficiencies when making its recommendations.
In the latest review, some of the lowest paid teaching staff got a 2 percent pay raise but most were held at 1 percent and therefore it seems like employers have presently been given extra freedom by the government to give their workers higher salary increases the next time salary levels are established.
But if these raises aren’t going to be financed by the Treasury and already financially compressed services will have to finance them from their existing resources, the problem is will they?
The examples of police, prison and fire-service personnel suggest employers are willing to creep beyond the 1 percent cap but are not yet giving salary increases that will mean their workers have more cash in their pockets once inflation is taken into account.
As well as the outcomes for people of having their salaries restricted, unions have pointed to difficulties with recruiting public-sector workers as an argument for lifting the cap and over most of the public sector, there have been difficulties with recruitment and retention of workers since 2010, even though this differs across various fields.