At least 1.3 million public sector workers will see their wages rise next year after the government confirmed the wage freeze was lifted.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak will use his budget on Wednesday to say that nurses, teachers and members of the military are among those who will benefit.
A “temporary pause” in wage progression was introduced last November as a response to the pandemic.
The work says rising taxes and prices mean families face a cost-of-living crisis.
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The freezing of public sector salaries was part of the government’s response to what it described as the “economic emergency” caused by Covid, excluding only the lowest paid.
In his spending review in November 2020, Sunak said he could not justify a general increase when many in the private sector saw their pay and working hours cut during the crisis.
He said the pandemic has forced ministers to take extraordinary measures to protect people’s jobs and incomes “by allocating our resources to those who need them most.”
The economy “gets back on track”
But in an announcement on Monday night, the Treasury said the chancellor will use his next budget to say that “solid economic recovery and encouraging signs in the labor market” mean the “wage break” can be lifted.
In a statement, Sunak said: “The economic impact and uncertainty of the virus meant that we had to make the difficult decision to suspend public sector salaries.
“Together with our employment plan, this action helped us protect livelihoods at the height of the pandemic.
“And now, with the economy firmly back on track, it is fitting that nurses, teachers and all other public sector workers who did their part during the pandemic see their wages rise.”
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The Treasury said the “temporary hiatus” helped ensure that the gap between public and private sector pay did not widen further during the height of the pandemic.
He said average weekly public sector earnings increased 4.5% in 2020/21, while private sector wage increases were a third lower than pre-crisis ones, at 1.8%.
And he said exactly how much of a pay raise public sector workers receive depends on the recommendations of independent pay review bodies, which set the pay for most of the frontline workforce, including nurses, police officers, prison officers and teachers.
The ministers “will conduct a full pay round and the awards will be announced next year once the government responds to the recommendations of the salary review bodies,” the Treasury added.
The announcement comes at a time of heated debates over the pressures facing households amid rising energy bills and rising merchandise prices in stores.
Opposition lawmakers accused conservatives of presiding over a cost-of-living crisis with universal credit cuts and tax hikes to finance the NHS and welfare.
There is also concern among some conservative backbenchers that ministers need to do more to help families in need.
‘Never a good time’
The UK’s largest union, Unison, said the pay freeze will continue “in all but name” unless government departments get extra cash.
His secretary general Christina McAnea said that while “there was never a good time to freeze public sector salaries,” doing it “at the height of a pandemic was the height of madness” while “staff went to great lengths to keep the services under pressure “. running”.
He added: “There can be no decent public services without the people who run them.
“The pay freeze does not help employers retain experienced staff or attract new recruits.
“But if the chancellor doesn’t allocate extra money to government departments to fund much-needed wage increases, the wage freeze will continue in all but name.”
Labor says many of those working on the front lines to tackle Covid are among those affected by the government’s choices.
Shadow Chief Treasury Secretary Bridget Phillipson said: “Last year’s choice of this conservative government to freeze wages for so many frontline workers, who were among the true heroes of the pandemic, was harmful and unsustainable.
“The government must work to ensure a fair deal and reflect the vital work of all key workers, including many who were burned in the course of the pandemic.”
- Public sector
- Rishi Sunak
- Budget 2021
- Coronavirus pandemic
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