Warren Morgan: Pay our public sector workers a decent wage

Warren Morgan, the Labour leader of Brighton and Hove City Council SUS-170126-092210001
Warren Morgan, the Labour leader of Brighton and Hove City Council SUS-170126-092210001

Nurses, street cleaners, firefighters, teachers, police officers, paramedics. These are people whose services we either use every day, or rely on to be there when we most need them.

For seven years the salaries they are paid have only increased by a maximum of one per cent (zero during the first two years). We all know that the cost of living has increased faster than that; just this week inflation increased to 2.9 per cent. Police officers pay is worth around 15 per cent less now than in 2010 according to the Police Federation. No one would argue their job is 15 per cent easier than it was then.

We are doing what we can locally. We are a Living Wage employer, and we are trying to reduce the cost of housing in the city, which is so much higher than other areas.

By contrast the government has responded to the pressure to lift the pay cap with confused messaging, and then a pretence at action that simply does not go far enough. It won’t be enough to help recruit and retain the staff our schools, the NHS and the emergency services need. It won’t be enough to help those key workers in our city afford the accommodation they can’t do without.

It won’t be enough to ensure that key workers are no longer among the 7.4 million working people in this country who are living in poverty. We have all been moved by hearing from nurses who are forced to visit foodbanks to keep their families fed.

At the TUC Conference in Brighton this week, this pretence by Government that they are lifting the public sector pay cap was dismissed as “divisive” and “derisory”. Even for the police and prison staff it is still a real-terms cut in pay due to the rate of inflation.

It is all too easy when getting into the language of public sector pay awards to lose sight of the fact that this is about real people doing vitally important jobs, who don’t deserve falls in the real value of their wages.

It should not have to come to the point where public sector workers feel desperate because the government is simply not listening. We are one of the most prosperous economies in the world. Others find a way of paying their public sector staff a good salary. It should not be beyond us as a nation to do the same.

Warren Morgan is the Labour leader of Brighton & Hove City Council.