Speaking recently in a lengthy Westminster Hall debate, Reading East MP Matt Rodda called for further funding for public sector workers, outlining the key issues which affect those employed in Reading and worsen an already desperate situation.
The debate was brought into existence by an online petition from Unison General Secretary Dave Prentis, and has garnered almost 150,000 signatures in just over two months. At the petition launch in mid September 2017, Dave Prentis said:
“Back in June there was a vote in the Commons to end the public sector pay cap, and give teaching assistants, hospital porters, care workers and other public servants the real and proper pay rises they all need and deserve.”
“But Theresa May’s government has let down public sector workers and their families up and down the country. We won’t let her forget that, and we won’t let her MPs with small majorities forget that either.”
“After seven long years of pay freezes and limits on their wages, ambulance workers, school meals staff, police and community support officers and other public service employees all deserve so much better.”
The motion for the debate was moved by Helen Jones, MP for Warrington North. In her introduction, she referred to the to acts of terrorism earlier in the year and the heroic responses of public sector workers, namely the doctors and nurses who raced on foot from St. Thomas' Hospital across Westminster Bridge to help save lives.
“After incidents like that attract gratitude – and rightly so. Gratitude doesn't pay the rent, or the mortgage or put food on the table. It doesn't buy a school uniform or get a day out for the kids. This is a policy based on a failed economic model.”
Currently 5.4 million people work in the public sector. For more than seven years, public sector workers have seen their pay decline due to the pay cap. Inflation is currently at 2.9%, and the pay cap constitutes a significant annual pay cut for those public service workers such as nurses, care workers, teaching assistants, and social workers. Public sector pay has risen by just 4.4% between 2010 and 2016 whilst the cost of living rose by 22%.
Addressing the debate, Matt referred to the impact on the standard of living of those working in the public sector. He said:
“The Government must stop treating public sector workers as the enemy. Our public servants deserve our support, our appreciation and, most of all, a decent standard of living. That really is not too much to ask in the 21st century. The pressure on incomes is clear. On average, public sector workers have seen the real value of their wages drop by nearly £5,000 since 2010 and, if the current policy of austerity continues, they face the loss of a further £1,400 by the end of this Parliament. Indeed, some workers have seen a pay cut of around 15%, a significant sum for those who are mainly on modest incomes.”
Matt continued, making particular reference to the high cost of living in the Reading which compounds the issue of public sector pay further, resulting in the loss of vital jobs. He said:
“There have been many harmful effects across the public sector; in Reading that has been made worse by the high cost of living in the south-east of England. Because of high housing costs and other costs which are similar to outer London - and the lack of any London weighting - towns like Reading or many other places in south-east England have seen public sector workers in my constituency hit particularly hard by this failed policy. Our schools, NHS, police, local government and many other services are being hit by the pay cap, and we have seen the loss of teachers and midwives, and shortages in many other key services.”
Making reference to the housing crisis which affects the likelihood of younger professionals settling in towns such as Reading, Matt explained:
“One of the harshest and most damaging impacts of the policy is its effect on younger professionals. I should point out that, with starter homes local to Reading costing up to around £300,000 for a two-bedroom house, home ownership is quite simply slipping out of reach for many younger people in their mid-20s and early 30s. That is a travesty, and it will do untold damage to our services in the longer term. It is driving people out of towns such as Reading, and other nearby cities such as Oxford, and into much lower-cost areas, and it is fuelling deep problems in our services. It has not always been like this. Just 10 years ago, there were no such problems—or not to this extent—and a supply of key worker housing in the Thames Valley area existed under previous Governments of both political colours.”
Matt's contribution to the lengthy three-hour debate rounded on the Government, calling the pay cap “quite simply deeply unfair” and “unworkable”, not just for public servants but for the country overall, and he believes the situation is worsening. Matt urged the Government to review this “mistaken” policy, stating that the pay cap has lasted for too long and the cuts have gone too deep. He was also keen to point out the Government's priorities when it came to funding other matters.
“The Government has money for certain things. They have £1 billion to pay off the Democratic Unionist party, £3 billion to prepare for a failed Brexit and huge sums to bail out the very wealthy, through failing to continue with the 50p tax rate and many other policies.”
In summing up at the conclusion of the debate, Helen Jones MP who brought this debate before the Chamber referred to the “warm words” for the public sector from Minister Andrew Jones MP, the member for Harrogate and Knaresborough and also the incumbent Exchequer Secretary to HM Treasury. The honourable member for Warrington North was unwavering in her condemnation of the Minister's platitudes saying that the Government were deflecting blame.
“Once again, the Government are deflecting blame. They say, “Yes, you can have a pay rise. Go away and negotiate it; we’re just not giving you the money for it.” That is the problem; that is what they have done all along. I say again that our public sector workers deserve better than that. They deserve far more than warm words. No one is asking for them to be paid an extravagant salary, merely a salary that enables them to live decently. That should not be too much to ask in 21st-century Britain, but it appears that it is too much to ask from this Government.”