MPs' pay rise has exposed hypocrisy and wilful ignorance on civil service pay

Wilful ignorance on how civil servants are treated and paid is salt in the wounds of those who feel abandoned by their political masters, argues Prospect’s Garry Graham

By Garry Graham

04 Mar 2022

The announcement of a pay increase for MPs led to a surge of over 1,000 people signing our petition calling for the fundamental reform of civil service pay and the Cabinet Office Pay Remit Guidance for the coming year.

Underpinning this is a deep anger that the pay of civil servants has become the poor relation to pay, not only for comparable jobs in the private sector, but also in the wider public sector. Over the past decade, the civil service has been the subject of the harshest of pay policies compounded by the withdrawal of pay progression systems. Pay systems are broken. This is not even a matter of dispute with the Cabinet Office or the employers we deal with anymore.

Thus, civil servants have looked quizzically at the 2.7% consolidated and pensionable pay award recently announced for MPs – an increase that is meant to reflect earnings increases in the public sector over the previous year. A year when the civil service was the subject of a pay freeze. And, for the avoidance of doubt, no, they didn’t get pay progression either. That was withdrawn for most many years ago.

And there is a pattern here: MPs' pay has increased by 28% since 2010. This is in stark contrast to the pay of your average civil servant, which has increased in cash terms by a mere 12% in the same period (a significant real-terms pay cut). MPs also don’t have to worry about a lack of pay progression  – because they are all paid a “spot rate salary” from day one in the job. Many civil servants struggle to move far beyond their pay range minima, with maxima a distant horizon they have no hope of ever reaching.

Add to this, MPs have been free in a way civil servants have not been to take on secondary employment to boost their income, because some MPs have struggled to make ends meet on their meagre salaries. Bless.

I do not begrudge MPs their pay increase. Most I meet are hardworking and honourable people from across the political spectrum and they do a tough and sometimes unenviable job. What sticks in the craw is the hypocrisy and the wilful ignorance of some as to how those who serve and support them are treated and how poorly they are paid.

“Civil servants feel abandoned by their political masters, who have seen their pay increase at more than double the rate of officials over the past decade“

Pay systems across the civil service and wider public sector are broken and need to be fixed. The failure to protect living standards and provide progression, rewarding knowledge, skills and experience is having a devastating impact on recruitment and retention – particularly in specialist areas.

Our civil servants and public servants are at the leading edge of defending, protecting, supporting, and enhancing all of our lives. They feel abandoned by their political masters, the same masters who nonetheless are happy to take the credit for the work done on their behalf and who have seen their pay increase at more than double the rate of those they have had to rely upon over the past decade. All the while saying that there is little public appetite to increase civil service pay.

Civil servants deserve a fair deal. They deserve pay increases which will start to protect their living standards in real terms. They desperately need the reform of pay systems to enable progression through pay grades and reward the knowledge, skills and experience they gain.

Ultimately, the pay of civil servants who are not in the senior civil service should also be decided by an independent pay review body and not used as a political football. After all, if it is good enough for MPs, it should be good enough for the staff who support them.

Garry Graham, is deputy general secretary of Prospect. The union's petition to Cabinet Office minister Michael Ellis can be seen here

Read the most recent articles written by Garry Graham - Civil service leaders must join the chorus and stand up for their staff on pay

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