The chancellor Philip Hammond has been strongly criticised by unions over his comments at the weekend that public sector staff were being paid a “premium”.
On the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, Mr Hammond defended his stance, claiming public sector pay had “raced ahead” of the private sector after the economic crash in 2008.
“The chancellor’s remarks show he is completely out of touch2
While that gap had now closed, he argued that, when “very generous” pension contributions were taken into account, the 10% disparity between public and private salaries was a “simple fact”.
Asked about a Sunday Times report, claiming he had said public sector staff were “overpaid”, the chancellor insisted he was not going to discuss what was and was not said in a cabinet meeting.
He said: “This is about the relationship between public and private sector pay and it is a simple fact, independent figures show this, that public sector workers on average are paid about 10% more than private sector workers. We have to bear that in mind.
“Relative to private sector workers, they are paid about a 10% premium,” added Mr Hammond.
“He should try and live on a public sector worker’s wage for a week”
In response, Unison assistant general secretary Christina McAnea said: “The chancellor’s remarks show he is completely out of touch. After seven years of a punishing pay cap, all public sector employees need a pay rise.
“The care worker hurrying from house to house doesn’t feel overpaid, nor does the hospital cleaner working round the clock, or the teaching assistant going the extra mile for the children she supports,” she said.
“They are all low paid, all vital, and all in need of a pay rise now. The chancellor’s remarks are nothing short of offensive,” said Ms McAnea.
“The Conservatives saw the cost of attacking public services in last month’s election,” she said. “But far from learning their lessons, they now risk repeating them – and adding insult to injury.”
GMB national secretary Rehana Azam also said Mr Hammond was “out of touch with public opinion” over public sector pay.
“He is too removed from the reality of daily life to see the impact of seven years of pay pinching on ambulance workers, nurses and teaching assistants,” she said.
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“He should try and live on a public sector worker’s wage for a week to understand the struggle to make ends meet so many are facing as the cost of living rises,” she added.
The BBC interview comes amid suggestions that ministers are leaking details of cabinet meetings, as they seek to gain political influence following the general election and during the Brexit negotiations.
The government has also been coming under increasing pressure over its pay policy since the election, with some Conservative ministers speaking out in favour of lifting the 1% cap on pay rises.
Recently, the health secretary told NHS managers that he was planning to relay concerns about staff pay to the chancellor, following a future meeting with the head the Royal College of Nursing.
In his speech to the NHS Confederation annual conference in June, he said that he would discuss the cap with Mr Hammond, who would ultimately make the decision on pay.
The health secretary also referred to a “constructive letter” from the RCN, saying he would meet with its chief executive and general secretary, and feedback that conversation to the chancellor.
However, Nursing Times understands that this meeting is yet to take place.
In addition, last week, a group of peers co-signed a letter in a national newspaper urging the government to reconsider its policy on pay in the public sector, ahead of a debate.
The RCN has also begun a series of protests under the banner “scrap the cap” and the Royal College of Midwives launched its own campaign last week, urging its members to write to MPs about pay.
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In the run-up to the general election, Labour pledged to spend £4bn on ending the cap, insisting this amount would be enough to give a real-terms increase for public sector workers.
Pay rises for most public sector workers, including nurses, are set by independent pay review bodies, but have been capped at 1% since 2013. Prior to that, there was a two-year freeze for all but the lowest-paid staff.
In 2014, two four-hour strikes took place during October and November in England and also Northern Ireland involving members of Unison, Unite, the GMB and the Royal College of Midwives.
It followed the government in England’s decision to ignore recommendations for a blanket 1% pay rise from the NHS Pay Review Body and instead limit it to those staff not due an increment rise.