The leaders of civil service unions the FDA and Prospect have called on the government to reopen negotiations over the current 2-3% pay guidance for officials in light of soaring inflation.
In a joint letter to Cabinet Office permanent secretary Alex Chisholm, FDA general secretary Dave Penman and Prospect counterpart Mike Clancy said “urgent action” was required to reflect the cost-of-living crisis faced by their members in the civil service.
The pay-remit guidance was met with anger by unions when it was published in late March. However, since then consumer-prices inflation projections have ratched up from 8%. Earlier this week US bank Citi predicted the Consumer Prices Index would hit 18.6% in January next year. CPI was 10.1% in July, according to the Office for National Statistics.
Penman and Clancy said the range for civil service pay rises set in the guidance was “clearly not fit for purpose” and would not allow the cost-of-living crisis being faced by members to be “in any way be meaningfully addressed”.
“A refusal to recognise the impact of this across all grades in the service is both unacceptable and damaging,” they said to Chisholm.
They added: “We are seeking an urgent meeting with you to discuss revisions to and relaxation of the current guidance, and how it is to be applied for this year, to enable productive discussions to take place at an employer level.”
Penman and Clancy said that in discussions with the Cabinet Office last year officials “ultimately refused” to pay any recognition to the impact of inflation in the guidance, describing it as a matter for “delegated discussions” with individual departments or arm’s length bodies.
However, they said they were dealing with “several” departments and ALBs who wanted to pay their staff more than the guidance allowed but were constrained by it. The leaders said the situation “makes a mockery of pay delegation”.
They added that they were also aware some parts of government had intended to submit pay flexibility cases only for them to be withdrawn at the last minute for what were understood to be “political reasons” .
“These unprecedented circumstances – where a cost-of-living crisis was preceded by a global pandemic – require an unprecedented response,” Penman and Clancy said.
“Urgent action is needed now to address the impact of inflation on our members.”
Their letter will feed into growing unrest over the impact of the cost-of-living crisis, which follows more than a decade of pay freezes or sub-inflationary rises for departmental staff.
Next month PCS – the civil service’s biggest union – will ballot its members on strike action in support of a 10% pay demand, which is now just under the rate of inflation as measured by the CPI.
A survey of its members – who are predominantly at the lower civil service pay grades – this month found one in 12 were using food banks.
The actual number of respondents stating they used food banks was around 1,000. However, extrapolated across the entire civil service, the survey response would suggest tens of thousands of civil servants are struggling to put food on their tables.
The survey also found nearly one in 10 respondents said they had signed up for Universal Credit.
In an internal memo to staff last week Chisholm and cabinet secretary Simon Case acknowledged that the cost-of-living crisis would make the coming months tough for many people.
“Into the autumn, the rising cost of living, fuelled by increasing energy prices, means a challenging period for many people. We know it is hard, and we know people are worried,” they wrote.
“As ministers have acknowledged, it is impossible to shield everyone from the full impact of the global economic pressures.
“Nevertheless, civil servants have played a crucial part in devising and delivering financial lifelines for the public since the beginning of the pandemic and more recently, in this time of increasing inflation and household bills.
“As taxpayers, and citizens, we benefit ourselves from the very schemes and support packages that we have helped to put in place.”
Responding to the letter from Penman and Clancy, a government spokesperson said: “We are fully committed to our engagement with staff and unions, and are working with unions to minimise any potential disruptions to ensure the civil service continues to deliver public services with value for money to the taxpayer."