Public sector workers could see 3.5% pay rise after departmental submissions

More than one million public sector workers, including police officers and NHS staff, could be in line for a 3.5% pay rise following submissions by UK Government departments to the pay review process.

A host of Whitehall departments announced on Tuesday what level of pay rise would be affordable for 2023/24, with 3.5% the favoured increase for most.

Only the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), when giving its submission for those working in the prison service, differed by saying it would not provide a base figure, instead submitting proposals for wages depending on pay band.

The submissions pave the way for police, teachers, NHS workers, doctors and dentists, as well as those working in the judiciary, to receive a 3.5% pay bump in the next financial year.

The UK Government’s evidence will now be reviewed by the independent pay bodies, which will make formal recommendations to ministers.

Industrial strikes
Doctors are among those for whom the Department for Health said it could afford a pay rise (Hannah McKay/PA)

But with inflation as high as 10% according to some metrics, the wage increase would still amount to a real-terms cut as the UK battles a cost-of-living crisis.

The submissions follow a wave of industrial action across the public sector, with nurses, teachers and border force officials on strike in recent weeks.

The Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) said “funding is available for pay awards up to 3.5%”, with the same amount deemed affordable for dentists and doctors.

The NHS Pay Review Body is responsible for making recommendations on the pay of more than one million NHS staff paid under the Agenda for Change contract, with a separate body for doctors, dentists and very senior managers.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said “This has to be some sort of sick joke. On the day when figures show that the country can well afford to meet NHS workers’ pay expectations, the Government is trying to force another year of wage cuts into the NHS.”

Unison’s head of health Sara Gorton said: “If the Government was actively trying to worsen the crisis in the NHS, it couldn’t have done better than this.

“Vacancies are at an all-time high and this pitiful pay suggestion does nothing to solve the growing staffing emergency.”

British Dental Association chair Eddie Crouch said: “This service is haemorrhaging talent by the day, and, with inflation soaring, a miserly 3.5% pay rise will clearly take its toll.

“The government’s blind pursuit of affordability risks undermining the very sustainability of NHS dentistry in this country.”

For teachers, the Department for Education (DfE) said more than the 3.5% budgeted for could be available in some schools depending on energy prices.

Schools and other public sector institutions have been dealing with rising energy bills since the lifting of Covid lockdown restrictions and the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine a year ago.

The DfE, in its submission to the School Teachers’ Review Body, said: “The department’s view is that an award of 3.5% (3% awards for experienced teachers, plus awards to raise starting salaries to £30,000) will be manageable within schools’ budgets next year, on average, following the additional funding provided at autumn statement.”

Clegg visit to Cookham Wood Young Offenders Institution
The Ministry of Justice said it would not set a flat rate for a pay rise among prison workers (Peter Macdiarmid/PA)

But it added: “Different energy scenarios mean that more headroom could be available than the 3.5% currently estimated.

“This could allow for additional investment in areas which benefit pupils, including, for example, a higher pay award.”

The Home Office, in its submission for police, has asked the pay review body to determine how any recommended pay rise should be applied across the ranks, including chief officers.

According to the MoJ, paying those working in the judiciary a 3.5% pay rise would cost £23 million based on 2022/23 pay roll costs.

Declining to set a base rate rise for all those working in prisons, department officials outlined a more piecemeal approach to pay in the sector.

The MoJ’s Submission to the Prison Service Pay Review Body said: “Using a flat-rate cash approach at each band, rather than the basic percentage uplift, represents an opportunity to provide a higher award in percentage terms for those lower down the pay scale, allowing us to target lower earners without raising the costs for all staff.”

The department said it would “target our lower paid staff” working in prisons with pay rises, with £70 million invested in upping remuneration of those on the bottom pay rungs.

The lowest paid would see a “cash increase of £2,000”, under the MoJ’s submission, while Band 3 prison officers would receive a £1,015 increase, amounting to a 4% increase “regardless of where they sit in the pay range”.