May Moves to Appease Voter Anger With Public Sector Pay Rise

(Bloomberg) -- U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May moved to appease voter anger by announcing that the cap on public-sector pay rises in place since 2011 was to be eased, with police and prison officers the first to benefit.

Police will get a 2 percent rise in their pay this year, and prison officers will get a 1.7 percent rise. The Conservative government froze public sector pay for two years from 2011 to 2012, and since then increases have been limited to 1 percent, or well below inflation that hit 2.9 percent in August.

In an effort to keep spending under control, the money will have to be found from within existing budgets. However, in light of May’s disastrous election result, it’s become clear she needed to address the backlash against what public opinion sees as years of austerity under the Conservatives.

“The government is taking a balanced approach to public spending, dealing with our debts to keep our economy strong,” May’s spokesman James Slack told reporters. “More flexibility may be required to deliver world class public services.”

In the aftermath of the snap vote where May unexpectedly lost her majority, Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond said he accepted Britons were “weary” of all the cost-cutting and belt-tightening. During the campaign, terror attacks in the country opened May up for criticism for her tenure as home secretary presiding over armed policy cuts.

But easing pay restraint will be expensive: The government’s total pay bill is 180 billion pounds ($240 billion).

Mark Serwotka, leader of the Public and Commercial Services union, responded to the government’s announcement at the margins of the Trade Union Congress in Brighton on Tuesday. Using colorful language he described as “not good enough.”

“It’s good they’ve been forced to move, but our message is that we all deserve a pay rise, every single public sector worker deserves a pay rise that exceeds the rate of inflation. Unless we get 2.9 percent it’s a further cut in our living standards.”