• Public sector pay cap ‘forcing staff to go without food’

  • 20 Jun 2017
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Rocketing inflation means many workers face real financial hardship, union warns

The public sector pay cap is forcing a worrying number of employees to go without basic necessities, a leading trade union warned today. 

A survey of more than 6,500 public sector employees by Unison found that more than three-quarters (77 per cent) had cut back on food shopping in the last year, while more than one in 10 (11 per cent) had skipped meals to make sure they could feed their children.

More than half (52 per cent) had borrowed money from friends and family to make ends meet, 16 per cent had resorted to using debt advice services and 7 per cent had applied for payday loans. A small but significant 110 people surveyed said they had resorted to using food banks. 

“Public sector workers have seen their incomes fall drastically in real terms, and with inflation on the rise this means real financial hardship,” said Unison general secretary Dave Prentis. “A modern, caring society should not allow those who look after people when they’re ill, help educate our children or keep the public safe on the streets to be treated in this shoddy way.

“Enough is enough. The election result showed that people have had enough of austerity and the damage being wreaked on public services and communities.”

The survey results were released a day after a group of healthcare unions and bodies, including Unison, Unite, the Royal College of Nursing and the British Medical Association, along with the Prison Officers’ Association, wrote an open letter to prime minister Theresa May calling on her to scrap the pay cap. 

In March, the government confirmed that the cap, which freezes the maximum amount for any pay increases at 1 per cent, would extend into 2019 and would include NHS workers along with the Armed Forces and local and central government.

The cap means public sector pay is lagging behind inflation, which soared to 2.9 per cent in May – well above the Bank of England’s 2 per cent target and the highest it has been in almost four years. 

Charles Cotton, performance and reward adviser at the CIPD, said the Unison survey results were “reflective of what’s happening in the economy – public sector and private sector have both had it tough”.

He added that concerned HR professionals “need to start thinking strategically about where the business is going to go”, including “redesigning the organisation, redesigning jobs, redesigning work tasks, upskilling employees, improving productivity – and that will hopefully start to be reflected in salaries and benefits”.

In the lead-up to this month’s general election, both Labour and the Liberal Democrats pledged to scrap the public sector pay cap if they were voted into power. The Conservative manifesto, however, did not mention the pay cap.

A separate study by Canada Life of 1,010 UK employees, also published today, found that nearly three-quarters (72 per cent) would struggle to cope financially if they were diagnosed with cancer. More than half (57 per cent) said they would find it difficult to afford their weekly food shop and 43 per cent would find it hard to make mortgage or rent payments.


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Comments (2)
  • I agree. The same feels true accross most sectors. Bit of a catch 22 with moving to secure higher wage to off set inflation versus the decreased job security that would bring.

  • Whilst this is very sad, and trust me I don't think that nurses, firefighters for armed forces are paid nearly enough for what they do, many of us are in the same boat or worse.  Our Company (700 employees) has had to impose a pay freeze for the first time in living memory and we would actually be glad of a 1% increase right now.  I'm sure many companies are having the same issues and I wonder if a survey that wasn't specific to the public sector would reveal the same levels of difficulty (cutting back on food shopping, debt advice etc) across the general population?