Senior politicians heighten calls to raise public sector pay, despite last week’s failed parliamentary vote

The number of nurses leaving the profession has outstripped those joining, figures out today have revealed, as reports surfaced that senior ministers are keen to end the UK’s public sector pay cap.

Registration data from the Nursing & Midwifery Council revealed that, between 2016 and 2017, 45 per cent more people left the register than joined it – the first time this has happened in recent years.

Excluding retirement, the top three reasons for leaving were working conditions, a change in personal circumstances and disillusionment with the quality of care provided to patients. A fifth (18 per cent) also cited poor pay and benefits as a reason for leaving.

Warning the profession was “heading towards a staffing crisis”, Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: “Lifting the cap would undoubtedly improve recruitment and retention. For workers to get the rise they deserve, we need a complete reversal of policy.”

The Guardian has reported that foreign secretary Boris Johnson is the latest senior official to add his weight to the demand to lift the 1 per cent pay cap for public sector workers, including teachers, nurses, police and fire staff.

The news follows reports last week that transport secretary Chris Grayling and defence secretary Michael Fallon had discussed a “possible re-examination” of the pay restraint, shortly before a vote to lift the cap – tabled by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn as an amendment to the Queen’s speech – was due to take place in the House of Commons.

However, just hours later, Downing Street insisted that government policy on the pay cap, which is scheduled to last until 2019, had not changed. The vote was lost by 323 votes to 309.

Public sector pay restraint has been in place since 2011 – first with a pay freeze for two years and since then a 1 per cent pay cap – in an effort to reduce public spending and the deficit, as well as to take into account that public sector pay had continued to rise during the recession, unlike private sector pay.

“In the long run it is not good if there is a big difference between private and public sector pay,” Jonathan Cribb, senior research economist at the Institute for Fiscal Studies, told People Management.

In the next few years, private sector pay is forecast to grow significantly faster than pay in the public sector, Cribb said. If that happens, it could lead to a worsening of recruitment and retention and could damage public services.

“If the government continues with the 1 per cent cap, we could see it being a much less attractive place to join for a job or career and therefore we will not have the right people in place,” said Cribb.

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