On Monday, South West MPs had a choice to make. Would they back the region’s public service workers, or would they duck out of the public sector pay debate?
Of 47 Conservative MPs in the South West, only one turned up.
Alex Chalk of Cheltenham managed to spare the time to make a brief attack on the SNP, and mentioned GCHQ staff. But not a single other South West Tory thought public sector pay worthy of their time.
150,000 people signed UNISON’s petition calling for MPs to end the public sector pay cap. It was a great victory to see the issue taken up by our representatives in Parliament. But for the nurses, police staff, teaching assistants and all the rest of the public service family across the South West, it’s another sign they can’t rely on their Conservative Members of Parliament.
As regional secretary of the trade union UNISON, I know the dedication with which public service workers have battled through a seven year pay cut. The cost of living has shot up by 22% but pay by only 4.4%.
What public service workers are saying
A Swindon ambulance worker spoke of how the pay cap meant they couldn’t afford essential repairs to their home, or to realise their dream of starting a family
A local council worker told us: “I’ve stopped buying things, I can’t move. I’m worried about the future. I work more whilst others have lost their jobs”
One Gloucestershire NHS worker told us the pay cap “affected daily living” and her “disposable income for items other than bills is almost non-existent”.
A UNISON member in Plymouth wrote they did “less food shopping so I can afford fuel to get to work”
In Bristol we’ve heard from workers saying: “Had to get rid of one of the cars as can’t afford it”. “Not able to save anymore, all my wages go on living expenses now”, and simply: “Always struggling to cope every month”
The pay cap is hitting families
The stress on South West public service workers is clear. 60% had strained relationships because of their finances. Half had taken on debt to cope with the cost of living.
In research we’ve done with our members across the South West, fully 80% had considered leaving their jobs as a result of cuts. Brexit will mean fewer EU citizens work in the UK too. Seven in ten local councils are struggling to recruit staff.
Since 2010, the average public sector worker has lost £4781. If MPs keep the pay cap until the end of this Parliament, that employee will see another £1439 disappear from the value of their pay packet
Stagnant public pay: a sign of the Tory government’s failure
Public sector workers aren’t alone in facing financial pressures. Workers in all sectors have seen their pay fall behind the cost of living. The Government’s latest Budget put their failure on wages in stark terms when the chancellor Phillip Hammond revealed that average income won’t reach its 2007 level until 2025.
The pay cap has taken billions out of the economy – £3.9bn in the South West and another £48 billion across the UK since 2010. A boost to public pay would benefit our high streets and communities. And it would pay money back into the treasury through higher tax receipts and lower in-work benefits.
Public sector pay debate: our first step forward
The only way to win a fair deal is for MPs to pin their colours to the mast and vote for investment. That’s why we must challenge South West MPs failing to turn up at the public sector pay debate.
Thousands of people have written to their MPs asking them to show up and back public service workers. Now we need people in our region to join the movement. If you want to see the pay cap end, write to your MP, join your trade union, and say thanks to your public service staff.
To our representatives in Parliament the message from the public sector workforce is clear:
Don’t pat us on the back. Don’t patronise us with phoney praise. Vote to Pay Up Now for the pay rise we and our families desperately need