Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
  2. Conservatives
26 October 2021

The pay rises promised by Rishi Sunak don’t mean the end of austerity

Spending cuts will continue to weaken large parts of the state.

By Stephen Bush

Public sector workers are set for a pay rise: at least, that’s the headline that the Treasury wants this morning. Rishi Sunak will announce an end to the public sector pay freeze, but we don’t yet have any detail on how much public sector pay will go up by, whether it will be more than inflation, and whether or not the Treasury will be making additional money available to departments to make those new pay awards with.

(I say “we don’t yet have any detail”: because of Sunak’s fiscal rules, we can make a pretty good guess that departments will not be given extra money to make new pay awards with.)

But combined with the continuing rise in the national minimum wage (from £8.91 to £9.50) to meet the target of the statutory pay floor reaching two-thirds of median earnings by 2024, it means that the morning bulletins are full of stories about looming pay rises.

Sunak is hardly the first Chancellor to engage in dodgy double-counting and other ruses to make his Budget seem more generous than it is, and one reason why his last fiscal event was such a success, politically speaking, is that his team carefully managed the press in the run-up. 

If I were a Conservative in a marginal seat, I would be worried how the Budget run-up has been full of stories about wages going up, public spending going up and all manner of feel-good news stories, because, despite spending going up for parts of the British state, the reality is continuing austerity for large swathes of it.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy

It’s possible that we look back on these budgets as triumphs of political strategy, which allowed the Conservatives to have it both ways: fighting Labour both as the party of tight budgets and the party giving more money to “our NHS” and other favoured departments of government. 

Content from our partners
Why competition is the key to customer satisfaction
High streets remain vitally important to local communities
The future of gas

But it’s equally possible that we look back on these budgets as ones that locked the Conservatives into fighting the next election as the party of high tax, high inflation and cuts to pay and public spending.

[See also: Will selective austerity continue to work for the Conservatives?]

Topics in this article: ,