MP Helen Jones has been highly praised for her opening speech in the parliamentary debate on public sector pay.
The Warrington North MP led the debate which was scheduled by the Petitions Select Committee of which she is chairman.
A number of her colleagues described the speech as excellent and Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison tweeted: “Brilliant opening speech – a passionate defence of public services and condemnation of attacks on wages of those who serve us.”
Ms Jones began by saying that there was no distinction between public sector workers and taxpayers as the government implied.
She said: “None of us could function day to day without, for instance, the people who sweep our streets and empty our bins. I mention them because their hard and unglamorous jobs – as many public sector jobs still are – often get overlooked when we talk about the public sector.”
She pointed out that it is public sector workers that we all call upon when we are sick, are victims of crime, a fire starts or send our children to school.
The MP said: “There is something else about the public sector that cannot be measured so easily: it has contributed more to human improvement and happiness than it is possible to say. Without our teachers and our classroom assistants, for instance, so many hopes and aspirations would be stifled.
“Having a National Health Service has freed many families from fear of being ill and not being able to pay the doctor. The improvements that NHS staff have made in preventing and tackling disease have vastly increased everyone’s quality of life.”
She said there were many ways in which public sector workers “go the extra mile” because they “believe in the notion of public service.”
A Unison survey in 2015 showed that 73 per cent of respondents had to borrow from family friends to get by and 17 per cent had pawned items with 23 per cent having to re-mortgage their homes or move to cheaper property. Many had had to use food banks.
Ms Jones said: “When those in the public sector – people we collectively employ – are having to use pawn shops and food banks to get by, it shames us all.”
She continued by highlighting that it is not just pay that has caused problems for public sector workers – they are being asked to do more with fewer resources. She quoted nurses and firefighters who fear that services have been cut so much they cannot do their jobs properly.
Ms Jones disputed the government’s argument that the pay cap was necessary in order to help get the national debt down.
“We need to say that that is simply and absolutely wrong because during the time of the public sector pay cap, debt has increased, not diminished. So if the answer to debt is a public sector pay cap, someone is asking the wrong question.”
The MP finished by saying: “The total of the reductions in the main rate of corporation tax, the small profits rate and the combined rate costs the country £16.5 billion a year on current prices. So there we have it: tax cuts for big companies and pay restraint for public sector workers. Nothing could tell us more about the Government’s priorities. They also ignore the fact that public sector pay increases generate more jobs in the wider economy. The truth is that the policy is based on a failed economic model.
” Two things need to happen: first all our public sector workers should at least get a proper living wage: not the spurious national minimum wage, but a real living wage. We cannot run public services on the backs of poorly paid workers any longer.
“Secondly, the government need to let proper negotiations begin in the various pay review bodies. Then they need to fund those pay rises. That would be good for public sector workers, the wider economy and our regions, and in the end it would be good for our country. It is time to abandon the policy and give people a decent wage.”