Public sector pay – did the government massage the statistics to make its case?

Using a statistical sleight of hand, the government is trying to disguise the full horror of what's happening to public sector pay.

Using a statistical sleight of hand, the government is trying to disguise the full horror of what’s happening to public sector pay

The July 10 public sector strikes provoked a bitter war of words, with the government condemning the strikes as “unnecessary”. One assertion was that public sector pay growth had held up rather better than the private sector.

However the government is being disingenuous in relying on a figure that precedes their election to power. In fact, when we turn our attention to the coalition’s record it is the private sector that has seen faster earnings growth.

The TUC general secretary has written to Francis Maude to question the government’s statement, which pulled off the clever conjuring trick of being misleading without being untrue.

Bear in mind that all statisticians know that it is sometimes easy to radically revise the results by picking a different base year.

The government chose to base its claim for healthy public sector pay growth on measuring from the onset of the 2008 recession. Measuring from spring 2008, ONS reports that public sector earnings have grown by 12.3 per cent and private sector earnings by 9.3 per cent.

But this includes two years of Labour government. If we shift our focus just to the period when the current government was in power, the results are starkly reversed. Measuring from spring 2010, public sector pay has grown by just 4.2 per cent and private sector pay by half as much again – up by 6.7 per cent.

Frances O’Grady has told the Cabinet Office secretary that that there is much to be said for the government looking at the period for which it has had responsibility, otherwise there is a danger that, in a climate of failing trust, many will “believe that government simply picked the base year that best supports its case”.

But even the cute little comparisons that I have reported do not reveal the full horror of what has happened to pay, as they do not take inflation into account. The stark truth is that real pay has fallen substantially for both public sector and private sector workers.

Taking CPI inflation into account, the value of real pay has declined under the current government, with the purchasing power of private sector workers falling by 4.4 per cent since the general election and real public sector pay down by 6.7 per cent

There is only one cure for this malady, Britain needs a pay rise as a matter of urgency, and public sector workers must not be left behind.

Paul Sellers is a TUC policy officer

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