Gerald Jones (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, Labour): Thank you, Mr Hanson, for calling me to speak so early in today’s debate. Given the large number of people who wish to speak, I will try to keep my comments relatively brief. I congratulate my hon. Friend Helen Jones on setting out so powerfully how the Government are on the wrong track with regard to public sector pay. I also wish to declare an interest: two trade unions, Unison and the GMB, gave financial support to my constituency Labour party in the 2017 general election.
Right across the United Kingdom, we rely on our public servants each and every day to do the jobs that keep our communities and our country functioning—whether working for our local councils, maintaining our highways, cleansing our streets and villages, teaching in our schools, providing home care to the elderly, or working in our emergency services or Her Majesty’s armed forces. All those roles have one thing in common: they provide essential pubic services, and it is absolutely right that those public service workers need and deserve a fair pay rise.
The Government’s pay cap has been in place since 2010 —seven long years. Throughout that time, our hard-working public servants have endured significant financial pressures. Inflation has risen by 22% over this period, while public sector pay has risen by just 4.4%. Wage freezes and the Government’s pay cap have lasted throughout this time, bringing financial misery to public service workers and their families, and causing huge damage to services. For example, an average public sector worker, paid the median public sector wage in 2010 and subject to the two-year pay freeze followed by the pay cap, has seen the value of their wage drop by £4,700.
The pay cap and years of below-inflation pay awards are also having a significant impact on recruitment and retention, and one reason why nurses have been leaving their profession in droves. Local government is having trouble recruiting and retaining staff, with the workforce survey revealing that 71% of councils are reporting issues. That recruitment and retention crisis applies across the public sector.
Although the Government have made pay offers in excess of 1% for some sectors, the pay cap effectively remains in place for the vast majority of public sector workers. It is important that the Government do not cherry-pick pay rises for some public sector workers, which could be seen as an attempt to divide.
Stephen Kinnock (Aberavon, Labour): Is my hon. Friend aware that in my local authority area, Neath Port Talbot, public sector workers took a voluntary pay cut totalling £8 million to avoid the catastrophe of compulsory early redundancies? Does he agree that such a situation cannot and should not be repeated?
Gerald Jones (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, Labour): Yes, I do. It is an example of the dedication of our public sector workers but, as my hon. Friend says, is a bridge too far.
We need to see an end to the public sector pay cap, with a fully funded pay rise for all those working in our public services. Local authorities have tried to ease the situation. The two local authorities serving my constituency, Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council and Caerphilly County Borough Council, took decisions during the previous council term to become living-wage employers—the real living wage, not the pretend living wage that the Government are promoting. That has helped to mitigate, in a small way, the effects of the pay cap.
The Welsh Government have indicated their support for our public sector workers and repeatedly called on the UK Government to end the cap on public sector pay and give workers across the UK a much-needed pay rise, funded properly by the UK Government. They have stated:
“The UK Government must do the right thing and lift the pay cap right across the UK public sector as part of a wider strategy to end their damaging policy of austerity.”
With huge cuts to the Welsh Budget and local government in recent years, the Welsh Government have been unable to take further action without funding from the UK Government.
There are many economic arguments for paying our public service workers; however, as a country, surely it is our moral duty to value our public sector workers. They work to keep us safe, healthy, educated and cared for, in the face of prolonged real-terms pay cuts that have strained their working and family lives. The Government need to act. Last month’s Budget provided the Chancellor with an opportunity to bring an end to the period of unfairness and pay misery for public sector workers. The Chancellor chose not to act. Instead, public service workers are facing Christmas and the new year wondering how they are going to make ends meet.
Finally, figures have been released today showing a rise in the number of children and older people in poverty of 700,000. That may not be wholly attributable to the pay cap; however, in-work poverty is on the rise, and the pay cap will have had a significant impact on that. Food banks are now used more by people in work than by those out of work. Taken with the resignations of the members of the Social Mobility Commission, there is plenty of evidence to urge the Government to act. I look forward to the Minister’s response, and urge the Government to listen and take action sooner rather than later.