People working in the public sector deserve to see the “light at the end of the tunnel” after five years of pay restraints, the deputy prime minister will say, adding that they should feel the benefits of the economic recovery.
Under Lib Dem plans, pay would be guaranteed to rise by at least inflation (currently forecast to be 0.2% in the financial year 2016-17 and 1.2% in 2017-18) until the party has balanced the current deficit by its target date of 2017-18.
After that date, the party’s rate of investment in public services would be in line with economic growth and they would aim to deliver real terms increases to public sector pay.
The party says this would translate as a minimum pay rise of £350 for a nurse on £25,000, £420 for a police officer on £30,000 and nearly £500 for a teacher on £35,000 over the next two years.
“Five-and-a-half-million public sector workers have seen their pay cut in real terms over the last half decade,” said Cleggbefore the announcement on Wednesday. “They have made a huge contribution to balancing the books and everyone should be grateful to them.
“But that is enough – they have made their contribution. They should be secure in the knowledge that their pay won’t be cut again and, after we have balanced the books, we should return to normal levels of pay increases. They deserve to know there is light at the end of the tunnel.”
Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union, was critical of the announcement. He said: “The Lib Dems have spent five years with the Tories cutting the pay, pensions and jobs of public servants, so this Damascene conversion on the eve of electoral humiliation will be seen for what it is.”
Clegg said public sector pay restraint had raised more than £12bn towards paying off the deficit in this parliament. “We are tantalisingly close [to balancing the books],” he added.
His party has said they will clear the country’s £27bn budget deficit by 2017-18 by cutting £12bn from Whitehall, £5bn from tax rises, £7bn from cracking down on tax avoidance and £3bn from cuts to welfare.
Party aides said the promise to stop further public sector pay cuts would cost the exchequer £2.7bn over two years, raising questions about where else savings would be made in government.
The party’s policy would kick in during the next financial year as public sector pay has already been set for this year.
In 2014, the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, claimed that as many as 15,000 nurses would have to be laid off if the government was to accept demands for a pay rise from NHS workers staging the first health service strike over pay for 32 years. NHS staff claimed their pay had been cut by 15% in real terms over the course of the parliament.
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