Financial Reward for Government Workers and Key Workers Debate

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Department: HM Treasury

Financial Reward for Government Workers and Key Workers

Abena Oppong-Asare Excerpts
Monday 14th December 2020

(3 years, 5 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Abena Oppong-Asare Portrait Abena Oppong-Asare (Erith and Thamesmead) (Lab)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi) for securing this important debate. It is important that we continue to support key workers as they have supported us through this difficult time for the whole country. She spoke about a number of things, but I will touch on her point about the Welsh Government trying to reward care homes and the Chancellor trying to tax them. She mentioned value for money for taxpayers. I agree that public sector workers pay their taxes too and deserve to be treated fairly.

I thank all hon. Members who have spoken to support key workers in their constituencies. I am disappointed that not a single Tory Back Bencher has turned up to speak. It is important that we speak for the individuals we seek to represent. The fact that not a single one has turned up speaks volumes.

Several hon. Members have made moving and passionate contributions that have highlighted the strength and passion of key workers across the country. My right hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) talked about the 10-year pay freeze. People are hurting. I echo his point that the Minister should get back to the roundtable with the unions to negotiate a decent pay rise. I hope she takes that forward.

Like many others, my hon. Friends the Members for Bootle (Peter Dowd), for Jarrow (Kate Osborne) and for Newport West (Ruth Jones) talked about how important it is for public sector workers to get a pay rise. My hon. Friends the Members for Liverpool, Wavertree (Paula Barker) and for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous) talked about their direct experience of working in local government. My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate also talked about how he has been delivering food parcels.

My hon. Friends the Members for Liverpool, Wavertree and for Stockport (Navendu Mishra) talked about the pressures that civil servants are facing. A recommendation was made to move towards a national infrastructure for the recovery. I am interested to hear what the Minister says on that point. I echo the comments of my hon. Friends the Members for Easington (Grahame Morris) and for City of Durham (Mary Kelly Foy) about treating prison officers with respect. I have three prisons in my constituency and I know the amount of pressure that prison officers are facing.

My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) rightly pointed out that council tax will go up, which will have an impact on key workers whose salaries have been frozen for some time. How is that sustainable? My hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) talked about the cuts to pensions and how the story is essentially repeating itself. She said that the Government have not really addressed the economic crisis and the 10p an hour increase is an insult. She talked about how pay injustice has affected women, ethnic minorities and disabled people.

Freezing public sector pay was one of the coalition Government’s first actions in 2010. That was followed by a six-year pay cap of 1%. Over the past decade, NHS workers have lost an average of 15% of their wages as their salaries have failed to rise in line with inflation. On Friday, I heard from Royal College of Nursing members about the impact that that was having on them mentally, and the amount of pressure that they are under.

The average civil servant on a salary of £26,000 is now worse off by £2,110 a year. As hon. Members have mentioned, the Chancellor announced in his spending review that the 2.1 million public sector workers who earn less than £24,000 will receive a minimum £250 increase because of inflation. A £250 pay increase will result in a pay cut for any public sector worker earning less than £18,000. Once again, the Government have shown how much they value key workers by hiding a pay cut at the heart of their false promises.

Sam Tarry Portrait Sam Tarry (Ilford South) (Lab)
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Will my hon. Friend give way?

Graham Stringer Portrait Graham Stringer (in the Chair)
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Order. If the hon. Gentleman had been here at the beginning of the debate, he would have heard me explain that hon. Members can take part only if they are present at the beginning, regardless of whether it is to make an intervention or give a speech.

Abena Oppong-Asare Portrait Abena Oppong-Asare
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Young people in my constituency of Erith and Thamesmead have been submitting portraits of key workers as part of my Christmas card competition. I asked them to write why the key worker they have drawn means so much to them, and one young person said to me:

“I have chosen to draw many different key workers…They have been pushing themselves every day so they can help us. They have put us first and we should be indebted to them.”

Does the Minister agree that we are indebted to key workers, given their hard work and sacrifice during this pandemic?

Freezing pay for public sector workers is not only insulting, but irresponsible. I am curious to know whether the Minister has given due regard to the impacts that the pay freeze will have. Has the Minister read the report by the TUC, which found that public sector pay increases could boost GDP significantly? That has been echoed by a number of Members in the debate. Does the Minister recognise that imposing a real-terms pay cut, when 1.8 million key workers already earn less than the real living wage, risks driving thousands into poverty? Can the Minister explain how she plans to tackle the shortage of over 80,000 NHS and care sector jobs at the same time as freezing public sector pay?

Over 1 million key workers face a real-terms pay cut next year. That includes 125,000 police officers, 500,000 teachers, 300,000 civil service staff and 125,000 armed forces personnel. By failing to reaffirm the Government’s manifesto commitment to ensure that teachers’ starting salaries reach £30,000 by 2022, the Chancellor has made it clear that he has no intention to back our public sector workers. Cutting universal credit, and giving the go-ahead for council tax rises in the middle of a pandemic, is pushing more people into poverty. The Government are making poor spending decisions that threaten to push our economy and public services to breaking point.

I want to conclude by quoting my hon. Friend the Member for Gower. Public sector workers are not asking for a lot. They just want their contributions to be recognised, and claps do not pay the bills.

Graham Stringer Portrait Graham Stringer (in the Chair)
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I ask the Minister to leave enough time at the end—we have plenty of time—for the proposer of the debate to wind up.