The Stakes: Public Services
This election presents the clearest choice for decades. From economic policy, to taxation, to public services, the Conservatives and Labour offer two fundamentally different paths for the UK.
Cuts to public services have been presented by the Conservatives as economically necessary, while tax rates for big businesses and the richest few are also being slashed. Privatisation is presented as efficiency, but the reality is the opposite: private profit comes at the expense of public services and those working to provide them.
Not only have these political choices made economic recovery harder, they have undermined the provision of public services. What is less obvious is the damage that worsening pay in the public sector is doing. I recently had a heart transplant, and during my three months in hospital under the wonderful care of health workers, it was clear to me the very real danger another Conservative government poses. I met nurses, and even junior doctors, feeling forced out of the jobs they loved because they literally couldn’t make ends meet.
Where are we at?
The experiences of PCS members across the country show just how difficult life is as a public sector employee under a Conservative government. Our members in the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) are currently taking strike action over further cuts on top of the 70% cuts already imposed to the EHRC’s budget. Shockingly, union members received emails from the EHRC making them redundant while on strike.
Public sector workers keep this country going, providing vital services from social security and disability support to preventing tax evasion and avoidance and keeping us safe. Yet many have been treated so shamefully by the government they’ve been forced to campaign for things that everyone should be able to take for granted: security and stability at work, and simply to be able to make ends meet.
Public sector pay
Recent research from the Resolution Foundation revealed that the already dire situation for millions of public sector workers is expected to worsen over the next decade if the government’s pay cap and high inflation continue to hit pay and living standards. Median real pay for the average public sector worker is predicted to fall below 2004-05 levels by 2020.
Since the pay cap has been in place, the value of average pay in the civil service has fallen by up to 9% against inflation; if the pay cap continues until 2020, as the Conservatives propose, average civil service pay will have fallen in value by over 20%.
The Conservatives claim that the pay cap is necessary to protect jobs, but we know this is simply not true. More than 110,000 civil service jobs have been cut since 2010, with further office closures and the risk of more redundancies to come.
Real term cuts to public sector pay aren’t just failing public sector workers, they’re failing everyone who relies on the vital public services our hard working public servants provide.
PCS members also have direct experience of just how damaging the government’s privatisation agenda has already been, with the recent Concentrix scandal revealing what can happen to vulnerable service users when a private provider fails. But it can be stopped. Our members in the Land Registry have twice fought off government attempts at privatisation.
Privatisation results in costs going up, a lack of accountability, a loss of expertise and knowledge, and worse pay and conditions for staff. This inevitably has a knock-on effect on the service being provided. Yet despite all the evidence, the government remains ideologically committed to further privatisation of our public services.
What’s at stake in the General Election?
There is a crisis in the public sector and it is a crisis made in Downing Street. The Conservatives have made it clear that their 1% pay cap will be in place until at least 2020, and have announced further plans for cuts, office closures and privatisation in the civil service and across the public sector.
What can be done?
To address this crisis, we need a fundamental change of policy towards the public sector and towards those who serve the public and provide such vital services. To start with, there is an overwhelming and unarguable case to end the public sector pay cap to prevent a further decline in living standards for public sector workers in the coming years. We also need a return to national civil service pay bargaining, the repeal of the Trade Union Act, and the strengthening of employment rights.
To protect and improve our public services, we need an end to public sector cuts, and investment in all our public services, and an end to privatisation - ending the transfer of public sector bodies, functions and staff to the private sector. The Labour party’s commitment to these policies under Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell is welcome news for our members, and for all public sector workers.
PCS is not affiliated to any political party, but we have been clear that our message to our members is that another Conservative government would be the worst possible outcome on 9 June. Personally, I will take the opportunity presented for the first time in decades to vote for a clear alternative to austerity.