UK civil servants face real terms pay cut as unions slam government’s ‘utter contempt’ for officials

By on 04/04/2022 | Updated on 04/04/2022
A picture of UK pounds sterling
UK pounds sterling. Photo: Steve Bulley from Pixabay

UK civil service trade unions have reacted angrily to the UK government’s announcement that pay for officials will rise at an average of 2% for the coming year – and be limited to a maximum of 3% – despite the rising cost of living.

Last week Heather Wheeler, Cabinet Office minister, published government guidance that called on government departments to make average pay awards of “up to 2%”, although she indicated that some civil servants could hey increases of up to 3% if these were required to meet “specific priorities in [departments’] workforce and pay strategies”.

The announcement came after the UK Office for National Statistics indicated that inflation had been 5.5% in the 12 months to February 2020.

The announcement follows chancellor Rishi Sunak’s announcement last year that the public sector pay freeze that came into force in April 2021 would end in 2022. Most public sector professions have their pay increases set by an independent pay review body, including the estimated 7,000 in the UK senior civil service. However, there is no independent pay body for the rest of the UK’s 475,000 civil servants, whose pay is set by their department in line with the annual guidance. This is published by the central Cabinet Office to coordinate pay agreements across government, but departments must find funds within their own budgets for any pay deals.

Read more: UK chancellor announces largest departmental spend increase ‘this century’

UK civil service trade unions criticised the limited increase in light of rising inflation. The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) said that the decision amounted to “a real-terms pay cut” and was “far below what hard-working staff need to support their families at a time when they are facing considerable hardship as food and fuel bills rocket and National Insurance contributions increase.”

The union said civil servants had seen their living standards plummet by around 20% in real terms over the last decade, and that they were £500 (US$655.6) worse off on average as a result.

General secretary Mark Serwotka warned that industrial action could follow as the union enters discussions about how to respond.

It added: “Many of our members have already seen their living standard fall by around 20% in real terms in the last decade, as a result of having their pay frozen and capped. The average PCS member is worse off by £2,300 [US$3,017.8] a year since 2011″, and general secretary Mark Serwotka warned that industrial action could follow as the union enters discussions about how to respond.

On Twitter, Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA union that represents senior officials, condemned what he called “a ‘business as usual’ pay policy just announced for the civil service with no recognition of the cost of living crisis”.

Read more: Biden to propose the highest pay rise for US feds in 20 years, at 4.6%

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About Jack Aldane

Jack is a British journalist, cartoonist and podcaster. He graduated from Heythrop College London in 2009 with a BA in philosophy, before living and working in China for three years as a freelance reporter. After training in financial journalism at City University from 2013 to 2014, Jack worked at Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters before moving into editing magazines on global trade and development finance. Shortly after editing opinion writing for UnHerd, he joined the independent think tank ResPublica, where he led a media campaign to change the health and safety requirements around asbestos in UK public buildings. As host and producer of The Booking Club podcast – a conversation series featuring prominent authors and commentators at their favourite restaurants – Jack continues to engage today’s most distinguished thinkers on the biggest problems pertaining to ideology and power in the 21st century. He joined Global Government Forum as its Senior Staff Writer and Community Co-ordinator in 2021.

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