Police and prison officers are set to be the first beneficiaries of the Government’s decision to relax its 1% public sector pay cap, imposed in 2010.
The shift in policy was signalled by Downing Street on Sunday and is likely to lead to a loosening of restrictions for other sectors, such as health and schools.
It has come about partly in response to the recommendations of pay review bodies for the police and prisons – due to report soon – that have pinpointed low morale and increasing retention issues.
The cap first came into force in 2010, when public sector pay was frozen for two years, except for those earning under £21,000 per year, and since 2013 pay rises have been capped at 1%.
Most pay review bodies across the public sector have identified recruitment and retention problems over the past year but have generally not challenged the government’s line on wage restraint.
The Treasury is expected to tell other pay bodies that they can now take recruitment and retention into account when setting pay awards.
The prison service in particular has faced a series of crises this year, with the president of the Prison Governors Association (PGA) announcing last month that a “perverse” government overhaul and a “toxic mix” of pressures had led to a “complete decline of our service” and that governors were facing “unacceptable stress and anxiety”.
At the end of last month the Police Federation of England and Wales reported that morale among police had fallen because of changes to policing, pay, workload and benefits.
Steve White, chair of the federation, said that officers were meeting rising demand with dwindling resources and 21,000 fewer officers than in 2010. More than 86% of respondents to the survey said they did not feel fairly paid.
Labour’s shadow police minister Louise Haigh said that the move was long overdue: “We hope that ministers will finally listen to us and agree a fully funded and fair pay settlement for police officers this week but they must not simply put the financial burden on already stretched police budgets.”
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady has welcomed the shift but also warned that the Government should not favour some public service workers over others.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We’re very clear that public service workers are a team. Pay shouldn’t be a popularity contest. We know that front-line workers, so-called, depend on the whole team so we want a pay rise across the board.”
Dave Prentis, the head of Unison, which represents thousands of nurses, said his union would target Conservative
MPs in marginal seats in an effort to end the 1% pay rise limit and four unions have tabled motions calling for nationally coordinated action.
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MPs are set to vote on public sector pay on Wednesday.