Rishi Sunak, the UK chancellor, has effectively confirmed that this week’s spending review is likely to feature a pay freeze for many public sector workers in England, saying it was “entirely reasonable” to consider pay policy in the context of the Covid-hit economy.
The prospect of a return to the pay freeze that ran from 2010 to 2018 has prompted anger among opposition MPs and unions, with Frances O’Grady, the TUC’s secretary general, calling it “morally obscene and bad economics”.
Government sources have already raised the prospect of a pay freeze at Wednesday’s spending review, which will cover just one year given the uncertain state of the economy amid coronavirus.
NHS England doctors and nurses are expected to be exempted.
Asked to confirm the pay freeze, the chancellor told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “I can’t comment on future pay policy in advance of the spending review, but what I would say is, when we launched the spending review, I did say to departments that when we think about settlements it would be entirely reasonable to think about those in the context of the wider economic climate. That’s a reasonable thing to do.
“Secondly, I think it would be fair to also think about what’s 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.”
Asked if he was therefore not ruling out a pay freeze, Sunak said: “You can ask me any question and say, are you ruling it out, or ruling it in. When we launched the spending review, we said when we think about public sector pay that should be done in the context of the overall economic climate. I think that’s an entirely reasonable thing to do.”
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