'This isn't fair': public sector workers react to autumn statement – The Guardian

A teacher, a civil servant and an NHS nurse say spending is not enough to tackle costs and avoid strikes
Britain is facing the biggest hit to living standards on record after Jeremy Hunt announced sweeping tax rises and spending cuts heralding a fresh wave of austerity. Meanwhile, the public sector has seen pay growth fall behind that of the private sector at the sharpest rate on record.
The chancellor offered an additional £3.3bn for the NHS and £2.3bn for schools a year and a real-terms increase for government departments, albeit at a slower rate. Here workers from those sectors react to his autumn statement, suggesting the sums fall short of what is needed to meet spiralling costs and avert strikes.
Nancy Budler, 53, who has taught at her secondary school in West Yorkshire for 26 years, says Hunt’s budget “is still not focused on education enough. Funding pay awards along with energy costs and inflation will still make it very difficult to balance the books.”
Budler backs the National Education Union taking strike action. “I’m a committed teacher who loves her school. I would not strike if it was not necessary … We have no choice if we wish to protect both teachers and our schools and pupils.”
She says teachers’ pay awards must not come from school budgets. “Schools are faced with a number of competing factors, including rising energy costs and food inflation. You have to ask – we’re not a profit-making organisation, that money comes from the students.”
She says using school cash to fund salary increases would leave her unable to buy textbooks for the department she heads. “This isn’t fair and it isn’t right. The government makes a political choice to not fund our pay.”
“I’m hoping for government-funded, inflation-linked pay rises that will support teachers to remain in this increasingly challenging profession. Private business talks about high wages attracting the very best into the field – how do they expect to get the best teachers and keep us in the field?”
David, a 30-year-old civil servant in Sheffield, has seen his savings depleted “down to zero” by inflation and the cost of living crisis and believes Hunt’s budget “will only make that worse”.
The support for bills is not good enough, and the windfall tax on energy companies is pitiful given their massive profits,” he says. “Halts to planned increases to tax-free amounts are unwelcome – when there are plenty of extra ways tax could have been raised on high earners without hitting everyone.”
The 30-year-old says civil service pay must rise in line with inflation. “The below-inflation pay rises in the civil service have meant for me that things have got more expensive and the amount I have left at the end of each month once I’ve paid my mortgage and loans has dropped.
“The only way for anyone to achieve a meaningful pay rise in the civil service is to get promoted. For many, however, they’re not interested or capable of taking on the extra responsibility of promotion, meaning the most junior grades find themselves earning less each year in real terms.”
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David hopes strikes by the Public and Commercial Services Union will make the government take notice. “Central government civil servants are often forgotten about where nurses and teachers make the news. They certainly deserve better pay, but so do we. I’m hoping for a commitment to increase pay in line with inflation, and a one-off increase to offset pay lost over the last decade. PCS is asking for more than that, but that is the minimum we should expect.”
Alex, a 31-year-old emergency department nurse in a hospital in south-west England, was pleased to hear Hunt commit to an increase in social care funding to ease discharging issues in hospitals. “It will hopefully [mean] more hospital beds and reduce the stress on the ambulances and emergency departments.”
The extra £3.3bn announced by Hunt for the NHS is less than half the £7bn that bosses say it requires. “He’s not said how it’s going to be used or invested,” Alex says. “He also didn’t mention how he planned to avoid [nurses striking] or how he planned to support the nurses so this leaves the future feeling very uncertain.”
Alex, who is a band 6 nurse and an RCN member, says she supports the union’s strike “because nurses aren’t paid enough for what we do … Nurses every day are struggling – [especially] the band fives, the ones on the shop floor doing the grunt work of the NHS, doing 12-hour shifts. They can’t afford to live. For what we have to deal with every day on shift, it’s not right.”
She says understaffing on wards means nurses are overworked and face burnout. “Staffing is just getting worse and worse – when I first qualified you had up to eight patients on a ward, now it’s up to 14. You don’t get breaks – I won’t even get a drink or use the toilet until I get home,” she says.
“When I started there was a lot more support. Now a lot can’t continue with the profession and leave early because of burnout. We save lives and we don’t even get a decent wage for all the hard work we do.”


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