Public supports lifting the public sector pay cap because it is 'fair', says exclusive survey

A majority of the public favours lifting the pay cap on public sector workers but recent events such as the Grenfell fire and terrorist attacks have made little impact on their decision, according to an exclusive survey for PRWeek.

Police officers cordon off the area around London Bridge on 3 June following a terrorist attack (pic credit: Isabel Infantes/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Police officers cordon off the area around London Bridge on 3 June following a terrorist attack (pic credit: Isabel Infantes/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

The poll, by Atomik Research of more than 2,000 adults from across the UK, found that 65 per cent of those surveyed supported lifting the pay cap imposed by the Government on public sector workers since 2010.

The survey comes as Theresa May was accused this week of insulting teachers by offering them a 1 per cent pay rise – a real-terms pay cut with inflation running at nearly 3 per cent - after she refused to give in to pressure from opposition MPs and even fellow ministers to lift the cap.

When the survey results were broken down by region, support for lifting the cap was highest in the North East, with 75 per cent in favour, followed closely by Scotland. Support was lowest in the East Midlands, at 54 per cent.

Nearly 68 per cent of men were in favour of lifting the pay cap, compared with 62 per cent of women, while support was lowest among the 18-24 age group, at 60 per cent, and highest among those aged 45-54, at 70 per cent.

Those who supported lifting the pay cap were asked why they did so, with 61 per cent telling the survey it was the fair thing to do, while 35 per cent said it was morally justified.

The demand for fairness in public sector pay was highest among those aged 35-44, with 70 per cent giving this answer, and lowest among those aged over 55, with 51 per cent choosing this option.

what good is 1% when rent goes up and council tax goes up by 4%?

A survey respondent

Respondents, who were asked for additional comments on this question, gave a variety of reasons for their support, with many simply telling pollsters "because I am one" while others pointed at the gap between pay and inflation, telling the survey, "what good is 1% when rent goes up and council tax goes up by 4%?"

The survey also asked those who were against lifting the pay cap for their reasons, with 65 per cent citing the UK's deficit, while 21 per cent pointed to inflation.

Once again, respondents were given the opportunity to leave additional comments regarding their reasons.

Non public sector workers are paid far less anyway, so they are being selfish really. If people lived like me, no going out regularly, no takeaways, no Sky TV, no holidays every 3 months, they wouldn't need a pay rise.

A survey respondent

One told the survey "Their pensions are guaranteed, unlike the private sector" while another suggested that public sector workers already enjoyed a luxurious lifestyle. They said: "Non public sector workers are paid far less anyway, so they are being selfish really. If people lived like me, not going out regularly, no takeaways, no Sky TV, no holidays every three months, they wouldn't need a pay rise."

But, asked if their opinions had in any way been influenced by recent events, such as the Grenfell fire disaster or the terrorist attacks in London and Manchester, 70 per cent of those surveyed said it made no difference, while 27 per cent said they were now more in favour.

However, those surveyed were cynical about politicians from both sides of the spectrum using the pay cap for their own political ends. 52 per cent of those surveyed said opposition politicians were using the pay cap because it was politically beneficial to them, rising to 61 per cent among those aged over 55.

By region, 63 per cent of those in the South East were suspicious of opposition politician's motives, while only 38 per cent of those in London agreed with this.

Conservative MPs, including cabinet ministers Boris Johnson and Michael Gove who have called for a change to public sector pay, fared little better in the survey.

Just over half of those surveyed said Conservative MPs were calling for the pay cap to be lifted because it was politically expedient while 30 per cent said they were calling for it because it was the right thing to do, falling to 23 per cent among those aged over 55.

Those living in the South East were most likely to say that Conservative MPs were using the issue for political gain while those in London were least likely to say the same.

Commenting on the survey findings, Atem Mbeboh, deputy managing director of Atomik Research, told PRWeek: "Given the surge in 'Corbyn mania' and the current economic climate, it is no surprise the majority of the population are in favour of lifting the public sector pay cap.

"What is most interesting is the level of cynicism towards politicians’ motives. This increases with age – over 60 per cent of over 45s."

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