The Government is feeling the pressure on public sector pay. Listening to recent announcements, you might think that its pay freeze policy is at an end, but actually it is yet to promise any public sector worker the pay rise they deserve.
Today, the National Education Union and other unions representing school leaders and classroom teachers have put our pay claim to Secretary of State Justine Greening. We want teachers’ pay restored to where it was before 2010, when the Conservatives first started this short-sighted policy of pay restraint. And we are seeking an up-front increase of 5%, as a starting point to show that the Government has genuinely accepted our case.
Since 2010, teachers’ cumulative annual pay rises have been lower than inflation by almost 15%. Pay has gone down in real terms, while workload has gone up. The result is a teacher supply crisis spiralling out of control. Recruitment targets are being missed, while older teachers are leaving and are not being replaced. This can’t continue.
The General Election gave the Government a fright on this issue, as on so many others. Since then, it has been trying to give the impression that it has changed tack. Support for lifting the pay cap has come from surprising quarters. The trouble is that, as with so many other issues, the Government still doesn’t look sincere.
A few weeks ago, it announced that the cap was being lifted for police officers and firefighters. The result? Pay increases of 1.7% and 1% with a 1% lump sum bonus respectively. Both are still well below inflation, leading to further cuts in living standards. Both show that the Government is yet to realise the impact of its pay policy or want to change it.
Teachers and other groups have been told that the 1% cap may be lifted next year, but for only a chosen few. In my own area of teaching, it’s hard to see where the choice can be made. Tell prospective trainees that starting pay will only rise by 1%, while their student debt is rising by much more, and they will look elsewhere. Tell older teachers that they only deserve 1%, and they will continue to vote with their feet as well. And tell any teacher that they deserve more than 1% but their classroom assistants don’t, and you’ll discover they think everyone in school is worth a decent pay rise, irrespective of their role.
Without sufficient teachers, children’s education will suffer. Giving teachers a fair pay rise is a crucial part of solving that problem. But the cap needs to be lifted for all public sector workers. The cap has shown a lack of respect for our work and made it harder to recruit into the health and emergency services and many other equally important services as well as teaching. It has helped bad employers hold down pay in the private sector as well, in particular for lower paid workers, with a depressing effect on economic demand. Action on public sector pay can actually provide the economy with a much-needed shot in the arm.
This issue is firmly on the political agenda. Britain’s workers know that the public sector pay cap is harmful and that all of Britain needs a pay rise. We await the Government’s response.
Dr Mary Bousted is the joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU)