Public sector workers set for pay rise, Rishi Sunak to announce in UK Budget 2021

Freeze imposed because of heavy borrowing during the Covid pandemic

British Chancellor Rishi Sunak is due to announce that the year-long public sector pay freeze is to end, paving the way for millions of workers to have a chance for a pay rise.

Mr Sunak is expected to declare in his Budget on Wednesday that the pay restraint, brought in because of heavy borrowing during the coronavirus pandemic, can be ended.

The Treasury said the decision meant more than 5 million public-sector workers, such as teachers, nurses and armed forces personnel, could be in line for a pay rise next year.

Officials said Mr Sunak was able to make the move due to the “solid recovery” of the economy since Covid-19 restrictions were lifted.

“The economic impact and uncertainty of the virus meant we had to take the difficult decision to pause public sector pay," Mr Sunak said before the expected announcement.

“Along with our Plan for Jobs, this action helped us to protect livelihoods at the height of the pandemic.

“And now, with the economy firmly back on track, it’s right that nurses, teachers and all the other public-sector workers who played their part during the pandemic see their wages rise.”

He had hinted on Sunday that an announcement on public-sector pay was likely to feature in this week’s fiscal statement.

Pay rises were paused in 2021-2022, with the exception of the National Health Service and workers earning less than £24,000 ($33,030).

Trade Union Congress general secretary Frances O’Grady had called on ministers to use the autumn spending review to end the pay freeze and give frontline workers a rise.

Ms O’Grady made the demand this month after research by the congress found one in five key public sector workers had declared they were “actively considering” quitting and changing profession because of low pay, excessive workloads and feeling undervalued.

Pay for most frontline workers, including nurses, police officers, prison officers and teachers, is set through an independent pay review body that makes recommendations to ministers.

Officials said the government would request “full recommendations” from the sector pay bodies, with increases to be announced next year.

“This is big on promises but short on detail," said Kevin Courtney, the National Education Union’s joint general secretary.

“Teachers, support staff and school and college leaders will not have a clear sense this week of what is in store, and there is no prospect of clarity until 2022.

“The chancellor must do more than win a day’s headlines. He must make good on this latest pledge to drive up pay for those who kept this country on its feet throughout the pandemic.”

Unison union general secretary Christina McAnea said the pay freeze would continue “in all but name” unless Whitehall departments were given extra money by Mr Sunak to fund the wage increases.

Royal College of Nursing general secretary and chief executive Pat Cullen said the lifting of the pay freeze was “tacit acknowledgement from ministers they have underpaid nursing staff”.

“With this announcement, Mr Sunak will raise the hopes of many. They and the public will be unforgiving if there’s disappointment in the small print,” Ms Cullen said.

It was announced on Monday that the UK’s minimum wage for those aged 23 and over will increase from £8.91 to £9.50 an hour, which means an extra £1,000 a year for a full-time worker.

From April 1, young people and apprentices will also see their wages boosted as the "national minimum wage” for people aged 21-22 goes up to £9.18 an hour and the apprentice rate increases to £4.81 an hour.

Updated: October 26th 2021, 7:39 AM
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