Financial Reward for Government Workers and Key Workers Debate

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Department: HM Treasury

Financial Reward for Government Workers and Key Workers

Paula Barker Excerpts
Monday 14th December 2020

(3 years, 6 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Paula Barker Portrait Paula Barker (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship today, Mr Stringer. I start by thanking my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi) for securing this important debate.

Before entering Parliament, I spent nearly my entire working life in the public sector. I can assure hon. Members and friends that during my 30-year local government career, morale was never worse than during the past decade. The austerity programme initiated by the coalition Government, coupled with pay restraint amounting to substantial cuts in real-terms pay, brought unsustainable stress to public sector workers and the services that they provide. Average public sector pay is still £900 lower today in real terms than it was in 2010. It was hardly a period of shining progress in the run-up to the biggest public health crisis in our country’s modern history. At the core of that unsustainability was the fact that the public sector was never required to deliver less—quite the opposite. The drive for efficiency, alongside the demand to deliver more with less, severely hamstrung the capacity of the public sector to deliver the changes that were promised. Although my direct experience was in local government, the same is true right across the public sector.

We cannot simply disregard the previous 10 years as though they never happened. They are the historical context for debates such as this one, as we look to the future. Right hon. and hon. Members will know that more than half of all key workers are public sector workers. The race to the bottom has seen Brand Rishi divide up the public sector; apparently, not all are born equal: some are awarded meagre pay increases, while the vast majority are not. There is even new language used; “pause” instead of “freeze” is one example. The public sector is under no illusions. The photo ops on the steps of No. 11 every Thursday evening were exactly that—photo opportunities, and nothing more.

During the summer, the Government went into a spin overdrive, announcing above-inflation pay rises for some of those public sector workers whose rate of pay is recommended by pay review bodies. The Government enacted those recommendations while leaving out those whose pay is not set by pay review bodies, namely local government workers, social care staff and thousands of junior civil servants. Whether workers received a pay uplift a few months ago or not, the entire public sector is now set to be hit again for at least the next 12 months, leaving millions of key workers, who continue to go above and beyond in our hour of greatest need, facing another lost decade. Enough, quite simply, is enough.

I could give many examples, but I will conclude by pointing out that the problems created by more than a decade of pay restraint in the civil service have been compounded by the lack of a coherent pay system, which has led to huge inequalities within and across Departments, with the gender pay gap standing at more than 11%. I ask the Minister two things. When will the civil service move to a national pay structure, to address these inequalities? When will all public sector workers be treated equally and be rightly acknowledged, with a substantial pay increase for the incredible work they do each and every day on the frontline?