Nurses and civil servants have piled fresh pressure on the Government to lift the 1% cap on public sector pay rises.
Thousands of nurses demonstrated against the cap outside Parliament on Wednesday, while the UK’s largest civil service trade union announced it would ballot members over possible strike action in protest against the restrictions.
Amid increasing calls for the pay cap to be ditched, Downing Street has not denied reports the Government is considering scrapping the limit, which has been in place since 2010, later this year.
Theresa May was tackled over the issue at Prime Minister’s Questions, with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn urging ministers to “see sense and end the public sector pay cap” amid staff shortages.
In reply, Mrs May praised those “doing a good job for us day in and day out in often what are very difficult and harrowing circumstances”.
She said the Government would “balance” the “need to protect public sector workers” and be “fair to those paying for it” when it sets out a framework for public sector pay for 2018/19 this autumn.
Video: First PMQs since the summer recess
The Prime Minister also noted two pay review body reports for police and prison officers are still to be published and will receive a Government response in 2017/18.
Mrs May then attacked Mr Corbyn for “consistently” asking for “more money to be spent on this, that and the other”.
She added: “He can do that in opposition because he knows he doesn’t have to pay for it.
“The problem with Labour is that they do it in government as well.”
Mr Corbyn quipped the Prime Minister “had no problems finding £1bn to please the DUP” following her post-election deal with the Northern Ireland party.
He added: “NHS staff are 14% worse off than they were seven years ago. Are you really happy that NHS staff use food banks?
“Warm words don’t pay food bills – pay rises will help to do that. You must end the public sector pay cap.”
After the exchanges, Mrs May’s spokesman insisted the Prime Minister had not been describing spending on public sector wages as “this, that and the other” but had been talking about other Labour spending commitments.
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Image: Sir Tony Robinson joined the nurses’ demonstration
In Westminster’s Parliament Square, nurses protested as part of a campaign by the Royal College of Nursing, which has warned of industrial action if the cap is not removed.
Guest speaker Sir Tony Robinson, the former Blackadder actor and Labour activist, told the crowd: “We don’t want any more weasel words, we don’t want any dodging, we don’t want any lying.
“We all have a cunning plan: scrap the cap now.”
The Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union, which represents civil servants, announced it would ballot members for industrial action in protest over the cap.
They demanded the “unjust” cap is scrapped and replaced with pay rises of at least 5% for all public sector workers.