It’s been tough being a civil servant over the past year. And not only because, in 2022, we went through three prime ministers, four chancellors and myriad ministers. We, as a group, have been mistreated by the government – especially in regards to pay and job security. So, this week, more than 100,000 of us are going on strike on Budget day.
As civil servants, we assist the government and its various departments to perform necessary functions, but despite the important work we do we’re not being fairly treated. That was exemplified by the 2-3 per cent pay increase that the government approved for us for the 2022-23 financial year, while inflation was comfortably over 10 per cent for much of last year.
There’s this impression that all civil servants live a charmed life in regards to their pay and pensions. That’s not true at all. Around 40 per cent of members of the PCS union, which represents civil servants, working in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), for example, claim the same Universal Credit that they administer.
We’re feeling the same cost-of-living pressures as everyone else. Some civil servants skip meals and don’t turn on the heating, too, and the crisis has had a toll on my physical and mental health. Last November, worried about my bills, I calculated whether it’d be cheaper to work from home with my heating on, or pay high commuting fares and travel into the office but have my heating off. It turns out it’s unaffordable either way.
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Working in the civil service is unlike any other job I’ve had before – and I don’t mean that in an entirely positive way. Its instability stands out: a number of DWP Jobcentres and other departmental offices have been closed over the past year, costing thousands of jobs. Last May the government announced plans to cut 91,000 jobs across the civil service without any prior warning, and though it has now backtracked on that it is instead pushing departments for “efficiency savings”, which could still mean job cuts. Constant uncertainty still permeates throughout.
Adding to this sorry status quo is the disrespect civil servants have faced from ministers. Jacob Rees-Mogg, who oversaw the civil service’s work as minister for government efficiency, has jibed that “nobody would notice if the civil service went on strike”. His comments are insulting. A former secretary of state publicly expressing those views about his once-colleagues is just disrespectful. It’s also not true.
Everyone will be affected by the work of civil servants at some point. We share people’s frustrations at government cuts to public services, because they make it hard for us to do our jobs. Many people are leaving the service because work feels like a lost cause. The biggest public service we, as a workforce, can offer is to make sure that we have a properly funded and resourced civil service.
That starts with fairly compensating those devoted to serving the public. Our offer of a 2 per cent pay rise isn’t actually a bump; with inflation so high, I view it as an 8 per cent real-terms pay cut. The government isn’t even prepared to negotiate with our unions, so we have to step up our action.
That’s why we’re striking on Budget day (15 March), one of the most prominent days in the political calendar. We’re spurred on by the example of the RMT union, which, like us, has been demonised by politicians and the media, and is now balloting its members on an improved pay offer after sustained pressure on the government.
I’m prepared to fight for the long haul, and I know my colleagues feel the same. We’re all committed to getting what we know we deserve, and what is due to us.