Public sector workers in Milton Keynes feeling the pinch from pay cap

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Public sector workers say they are feeling the pinch when it comes to pay, work and living conditions – and are calling for the government pay rise cap to be scrapped.

The aftermath of recent tragedies in Manchester, London Bridge and Grenfell Tower have led to a groundswell in opinion that there should be a proper discussion as to whether the one per cent pay rise cap should be removed, rewarding the workers who throw themselves into danger and treat our injured.

Clive Benson, general secretary for Thames Valley Police Federation

Clive Benson, general secretary for Thames Valley Police Federation

Various unions believe the cap should be scrapped, but the Labour Party’s proposal to bin it in the Queen’s Speech – a motion rejected by the Conservative government – has created a much wider debate.

The pay, as well as the working conditions, is taking its toll. That is the verdict of Clive Benson, who is general secretary of the Thames Valley Police Federation.

Mr Benson told the Citizen: “We have been raising concerns for several years now about the pay cap that was put at a maximum of one per cent.

“We have put in an evidence-based claim this year that pay should rise for police officers nationally by 2.8 per cent.

Morale for firefighters is at a 25-year low according to FBU rep Richard Jones

Morale for firefighters is at a 25-year low according to FBU rep Richard Jones

“We are supposed to have an independent review panel who determine our pay, but it’s not independent - because the Home Secretary says it can’t be raised by more than one per cent.”

It is no surprise public sector workers are struggling to make ends meet when figures from the Land Registry reveal that the average house price in Milton Keynes has risen from £168,563 in January 2012 to a staggering £252,003 in January this year, a 49.5 per cent climb.

Mr Benson added: “Take home pay has gone down and that’s having a huge impact on officers while our workload is going up at the same time, and that’s not just specific to MK.

“Officers do feel let down by the government. There’s no question that in Milton Keynes we are seeing officers leave the force. They have had enough and they are going elsewhere. It’s creating huge problems.”

Meanwhile, a firefighter believes that morale in the area is the lowest he has seen in a quarter of a century.

Richard Jones, the regional secretary for the south east branch of the Fire Brigade’s Union which covers MK, told the Citizen: “I have been in the fire service for 25 years and I have never seen morale as low as it is now.

“They are not happy people, they are very disillusioned with what the local fire authorities have done to them and what the government have done to them.

“I have never seen so many people leaving as there are now. It used to be a job for life.”

He said that firefighters were leaving because of a huge increase in workload, while effectively getting a pay cut for their extra duties.

He added: “Our members have fallen massively behind the cost of living.

“I have seen figures ranging from £2,000-3,000 as a real term drop in salary over the last few years.

“We are clearly not all in this together after all.”

The pay cap has driven some nurses into poverty, with nurses visiting food banks and applying for hardship funds are at record numbers.

Bernell Bussue, a regional director for the Royal College of Nursing, said: “The public sector pay cap is an unfair and illogical policy that needs to go. Nursing staff have had real terms pay cuts for seven years.

“We want the government to scrap the cap. We have made clear that if pay restraint does not end that a ballot for industrial action will follow.”

Russell Quirk is CEO of eMoov.co.uk, an online estate agent that has carried out research on public sector property affordability.

He said: “It is very disappointing that those arguably the most deserving of a foot up on the ladder are the ones left well off the pace.

“If the cap were to remain in place until 2020, the difference between salary, the amount of mortgage available and the average house price will be cavernous for those in the public sector.”

The problem does not look to be disappearing any time soon, with unions stepping up petitions and protests.

And while the public sector workers may loathe to do so, stopping their work may be the only choice they have left if they want to see the pay cap scrapped for good.