UK public sector wages increased by just 2.7% in the year to October, according to official figures that will fuel the anger of rail and health sector workers preparing to go on strike in the run-up to Christmas.
The figure falls vastly short of the headline rate of inflation, now 11.1%, laying bare the cost of living challenge that is hitting public sector workers particularly hard.
Private sector workers received a 6.9% pay rise according to the latest data from the Office for National Statistics, but much of the increase was driven by bumper pay packages in the financial sector and staff in the accountancy and legal professions.
The headline rate of pay rises for all workers excluding bonuses rose to 6.1% in the three months to October, from 5.7% in September.
When the pay data was adjusted for inflation, pay for all workers fell by 2.7%, cutting living standards at a time of financial stress for millions of people.
Ministers have said they will fund a pay rise of 3% for public sector workers and give nurses an average of 4% in line with a pay review body’s recommendations.
However, Tuesday’s figures show the growing disparity between the protection against inflation being offered to some in the private sector and the public sector norm.
Nurses have rejected the offer and plan to go ahead with a series of strikes in favour of a deal that adds 5% to the retail prices index (RPI) measure of inflation, taking their claim to 19%.
Nurses’ leaders have said they are prepared to negotiate over the final settlement, but say health ministers have failed to consider the offer.
Most economists have forecast Britain will enter a year-long recession after a slump in orders across much of the private sector.
Employers in several sectors, including the manufacturing industry, have begun to dismiss workers, pushing up the unemployment rate to 3.7% from 3.6%. The number of vacancies also fell in the three months to October, showing that employers are becoming more circumspect about filling jobs while the economic outlook remains uncertain.
The ONS said: “The fall in the number of vacancies reflects uncertainty across industries, as respondents continue to cite economic pressures as a factor in holding back on recruitment.”
The chancellor, Jeremy Hunt. said: “While unemployment in the UK remains close to historic lows, high inflation continues to plague economies around the world as we manage the impacts of Covid-19 and Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.”
Hunt added: “To get the British economy back on track, we have a plan which will help to more than halve inflation next year – but that requires some difficult decisions now. Any action that risks embedding high prices into our economy will only prolong the pain for everyone, and stunt any prospect of long-term economic growth.”