Labour: Public sector should not pay for Sunak's 'irresponsible choices'

22 November 2020, 22:35

Anneliese Dodds will lay the blame for a "jobs crisis" with Rishi Sunak
Anneliese Dodds will lay the blame for a "jobs crisis" with Rishi Sunak. Picture: PA

Public sector workers must not cover for Rishi Sunak's "irresponsible choices" with a pay freeze that could jeopardise economic recovery, Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds will urge.

Ms Dodds is expected to lay the blame for a "jobs crisis" squarely with Mr Sunak as she urges him not to go ahead with a widely-expected freeze on the salaries of millions of workers.

The shadow chancellor will use a speech on Monday to call for Mr Sunak to use his spending review on Wednesday to treat frontline workers "decently, rather than grinding them down".

Mr Sunak on Sunday hinted that he could impose the freeze by arguing it would be "entirely reasonable" to consider pay policy in an economy ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic, though it is said to exempt NHS nurses and doctors.

Ms Dodds is expected to say a freeze for workers including firefighters, hospital porters and teaching assistants will "make them worried about making ends meet ahead of Christmas".

Read more: Rishi Sunak to outline spending plan but warns of 'economic shock' of pandemic

Read more: Treasury Minister rules out austerity despite ‘record cost’ of public services

Rishi Sunak has hinted that he could impose the freeze
Rishi Sunak has hinted that he could impose the freeze. Picture: PA

She should say that a freeze will mean "they'll cut back on spending and our economy won't recover as quickly".

"The British people shouldn't have to pay the price for a government that doesn't know the value of public money, splurging it on outsourced contracts to Tory-linked firms that don't deliver," she should add, in a speech to Reuters.

"And they shouldn't have to pay for a chancellor who's had to come back week in week out to change his plans, blocked a circuit-breaker leading to a longer, more painful lockdown, and still hasn't acted to fix Britain's broken safety net.

"The Chancellor's irresponsible choices and unacceptable delays are damaging the economy. That's why we're in the grip of a jobs crisis - and it's got Rishi Sunak's name all over it."

Read more: Rishi Sunak calls for 'collective endeavour' to repair damaged economy

Read more: UK records another 18,662 coronavirus cases and 398 deaths

Mr Sunak is due to announce a multibillion-pound plan to invest in long-term infrastructure projects and fund the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

He is also understood to be preparing to announce £1.25 billion of new funding for prisons and that the Government's 10-year schools programme will approve 50 new schools a year.

He insisted it is not the time to impose tax hikes "in the fog of enormous economic uncertainty", but he did not rule out capping the salaries of millions of public sector workers.

"You will not see austerity next week, what you will see is an increase in Government spending, on day-to-day public services, quite a significant one coming on the increase we had last year," he told Sky's Sophy Ridge On Sunday.

But, while he said that he "cannot comment on future pay policy", Mr Sunak added: "When we launched the spending review I did say to departments that when we think about public pay settlements I think it would be entirely reasonable to think of those in the context of the wider economic climate.

"I think it would be fair to also think about what is happening with wages, with jobs, with hours, across the economy, when we think about what the right thing to do in the public sector is."

The Chancellor also declined to commit to an extension of the increase to Universal Credit that was introduced because of the pandemic, but is due to end in April.

On Sunday, the vice-chair of the Police Federation told LBC that a public sector pay freeze would be a “slap in the face” for officers who have served during the pandemic.

Che Donald said: “Considering that it has been our police officers out there in the fight against coronavirus, this just looks and feels like a smack in the face for everything they have done to try and prevent the spread of the virus and to police the public while this has been going on.

“This has to be struck into the context that when we look at the first three months of the coronavirus, assaults against police officers went up 21 percent.

“To say that you are going to affect police officer pay, while they have been out there policing this, contracting the virus, some officers even dying of the virus, just smacks of unfairness.”

The Police Federation Vice-Chair, who represents over 130,000 officers, told Tom Swarbrick “it is an emotive issue” but previous pay freezes “over a ten year period” had left “police pay around 18 percent down compared to what it should be”.

“We have had police officers joining the line for food banks prior to the coronavirus outbreak,” he revealed.

“That is from the fact that pay has been undermined during the period of austerity.”

Frances O'Grady, the head of the TUC confederation of trade unions, appealed to a "sense of fairness" in urging ministers not to impose a public sector pay freeze.

"We saw ministers join millions of us clapping firefighters, refuse collectors, social care workers - I don't think this would be the time to reward them with a real pay cut," she said.

"If you want to motivate a workforce when we are still facing a second wave of a pandemic, and we're going to have a tough winter - we all know that - the last thing you do is threaten to cut their pay."

A Treasury spokesman said: "This Government's actions have protected millions of jobs and businesses across the country - including 9.6 million people on furlough and over a million companies taking government-backed loans."