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Rishi Sunak set to announce pay freeze for millions of workers

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The chancellor is preparing an announcement of squeezed public sector pay in light of the economic shock of the pandemic, according to reports.

Government sources say the announcement will be part of a mini-budget on Wednesday and will include plans to launch a Whitehall savings drive to tackle record levels of borrowing. 

It will also see the tightening of public servants’ pay – many of whom were at the forefront of the government’s pandemic response. 

Up to five million public sector workers are reportedly facing the pay freeze.

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Those set to foot the bill for the government’s spending include soldiers, police officers, teachers and civil servants.

It is understood that NHS staff, nurses and doctors are exempt from the pay cap.

Rishi Sunak is expected to argue that it is ‘not fair’ public sector workers receive pay rises while private sector employees are losing jobs and enduring pay cuts. 

In real terms, public sector pay is falling behind where it was a decade ago due to Tory austerity. 

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In July, Sunak launched a spending review where he warned that public sector pay would need to keep ‘parity’ with private-sector wages.

He wrote at the time: “In the interest of fairness we must exercise restraint in future public sector pay awards, ensuring that, across this year and the spending review period, public sector pay levels retain parity with the private sector.”

The rightwing thinktank, Centre for Policy Studies (CPS), explained that freezing the wages of 5.5million public sector employees for three years would save £23 billion on the Treasury bill. It is expected Rishi Sunak will use this report as the basis in his consideration.

Stopping wage increases would, in effect, be a pay cut as wages would not keep up with the rate of inflation which is currently 0.5%.

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Instead, if the pay rise was capped to just 1%, analysts think this could ‘save’ up to £11.7billion. 

The CPS – set up by Margaret Thatcher and whose director was one of the leading authors of the 2019 Conservative manifesto – claims private-sector workers have ‘suffered far more than those in the public sector’.

It says in its ‘Public Sector Pay: The Case for Restraint’ report: “The economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has been severe, but the pain has not been shared equally.

“Some businesses are folding under the strain, public finances have been decimated, while the public sector has escaped relatively unscathed.

“Healthcare workers aside, it is difficult to justify generous pay rises in the public sector when private sector wages are actually falling.

“At the same time, there is a need to control public spending and reduce the structural deficit which the pandemic is likely to have opened up.

“The Chancellor should redress this imbalance by showing restraint when it comes to pay and pensions in the public sector.”

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Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC, said: “Freezing their pay is no way to reward key workers for their service. Unions will fight for the proper pay rise they have earned. Working people must not bear the burden of the crisis.”

Dave Prentis, the general secretary of Unison, said: “The government must do what’s right next week and announce the wage rise staff have more than earned. Anything less risks destroying morale when the entire country is counting on them.”

Rehana Azam, national secretary of the GMB trade union, said: “Billions are being wasted, flowing out of Treasury into the pockets of their chums. Some people are benefiting from the pandemic while our workers are working throughout it.

“It’s dangerous territory for the chancellor if he imposes pay restraint as a way of offsetting the cost of the pandemic. We’re not through it, we’re still in it. Does he really want to do this when people’s morale is so low?

“When people have lost loved ones and people they’ve worked with, is now the time to kick them even more? I don’t think it would go down well.”

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Andy Burnham sets out £69.5m transport improvements for Greater Manchester

The transport system will be ‘world-class and reliable’.

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Andy Burnham sets out £69.5m transport improvements across Greater Manchester. 

The Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) will be considering a new strategy which involves more stops on the Metrolink and renovation of local rail stations.

Improvements are also expected to be made on the bus network and additional electric vehicle charging points across all ten boroughs. 

Mayor Andy Burnham says the new network will help to reduce social isolation and ‘build stronger and better-connected communities’ following the pandemic. 

Burnham stated: “As we look forward to our recovery, I am determined to speed up the delivery on a world-class, integrated public transport system in Greater Manchester.

“This package of improvements is designed to do just that and lay further foundations for Our Network vision for public transport. It will bring new services to communities with some of the poorest links, as well as improving access for people where it is most needed.”

The funding includes £20m on bus transit schemes, £15m new rail station at Golborne and £7m contribution to Network Rail Greek Street in Stockport.

There is also £2.5m funding on new rail stations and Metrolink stops, £2m investment in a new Travel Hub including Park and Ride at Tyldesley, £10m in funding for EV charging posts across all ten boroughs and £3.3m for Access for Al Funding for the next priority stations.

There will be an additional £10m for further scheme development.

Wigan Council leader, David Molyneux called the new station at Golborne ‘superb news’. 

He said: “It will connect the town and the wider area with Wigan, Manchester, Cumbria and the airport, providing more opportunities for our residents, reducing traffic on local roads and regenerating Golborne’s economy,

“This is the result of a lot of hard work, including from the local community, and I want to thank everyone who pushed hard for this to become a reality.

“This isn’t the end of the process, we still need to make the business case to government and our partners, but this will mean we have the money to deliver if we get the go-ahead.”

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The investment will be the biggest revamp of local transportation since £243m Transforming Cities Fund in 2018.  

The overall aim of Greater Manchester’s transport strategy is to deliver ‘Right Mix’ vision of 50% of all journeys in the city region to be by public transport, cycling and walking by 2040.

See more on the 2040 Transport Strategy here

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Calls to child welfare hotline increase by 50% over course of pandemic 

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Calls from concerned adults to an NSPCC child welfare hotline have jumped by over 50% over the course of the pandemic.

The NSPCC says it is now receiving over 30 calls a day from adults concerned that a child was living with domestic abuse, up 53% from pre-pandemic levels.

The charity warns this situation is likely to get worse as lockdown continues and is urging the UK government to make extra provisions for child victims in its Domestic Abuse Bill.

The NSPCC is calling for an amendment that would legally oblige all local authorities to fund community-based recovery services for child victims.

The bill has been hailed as a landmark piece of legislation and is set to have its second reading and begin committee stage today (Monday 25th). 

When the bill becomes law councils will ensure those who become homeless as a result of domestic abuse will be prioritised for emergency housing. 

The NSPCC wants funding for community-based services also enshrined in law such as counselling to help child victims of domestic abuse recover.

People who experience domestic abuse in childhood can experience difficulty in learning, depression, eating disorders and addiction as they go through adolescence and later adulthood.

Anna Edmundson, the NSPCC’s head of policy, said: “The risk of domestic abuse has been heightened in the last nine months with families living under increasing pressure and behind closed doors.

“To stop the pandemic having a lasting impact on children who suffer in this way it is vital they have access to support in the community to recover and move forward with their lives as not all victims can go to a refuge for support.”

The children’s charity Barnado’s also warned that without a legal provision for community-based services the new Domestic Abuse Bill risked creating a two tier system.

Chief executive Javed Khan said: “As it stands the bill risks creating a two-tier system – with adults and children living in refuges having access to specialist services, but the majority of victims who remain in the family home falling through the cracks.

“I’m urging the House of Lords to support a cross-party amendment – backed by charities supporting women and children – which creates a clear duty on public authorities to provide support for all victims, regardless of their age or where they live.”

Safeguarding minister Victoria Atkins said: “Domestic abuse is a truly awful crime which can have a devastating impact on children and young people.

“Throughout this pandemic, we have invested millions to support and protect vulnerable individuals, including three million for specialist services to help children, increased support for the NSPCC helpline, and provided additional funds to support local authorities.

“We are taking important action to better protect the victims of abuse and their children and bring perpetrators to justice.”

If you are worried about a child you can contact the NSPCC on 0808 800 5000 or email help@nspcc.org.uk.

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It’s ‘too early to know’ if schools will go back in February, Hancock says

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The government refuses to commit to reopening schools before the Easter holidays.

The prime minister and education secretary are coming under increasing pressure to reopen schools and provide a ‘route map’ for the reopening plan. 

Rob Halfon, the chairman of the Commons Education Committee, wrote on Twitter that he was seeking ‘clarity’ from the Department for Education and ‘an education route map out of coronavirus to get children learning again at school’.

It comes after growing concern that children are the ‘forgotten victims of the pandemic’. 

Former cabinet minister Esther McVey says the government need to take into account the damage the prolonged closures will do to the future prospects of a generation of children. 

Speaking to The Daily Telegraph, she said: “We genuinely seem to have forgotten about the children,”

“Millions of them are missing out on an education, not developing socially with their friends and aren’t allowed to enrich their lives by playing sports and music any more.

“They are the pandemic’s forgotten victims and we’ve got to start thinking about their prospects and futures as well.”

Tory MP, Tom Tugendhat added: “Closed schools increases inequality, exposes the most vulnerable, and creates gaps that cannot be filled. We must open schools as soon as possible.”

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A senior government source cautioned that the picture has become ‘more pessimistic’ as slowing infection rates were not falling ‘nearly as sharply as had been expected’, reports The Guardian

Robert Halfon urges ministers to put ‘the whole engine of the state’ behind paving the way for schools to reopen.

He told The Guardian: “The whole engine of the state must do everything possible to get our schools open after half-term as was originally proposed,

“If it means priority vaccinations for teachers and support staff then it is worth it because despite the efforts of individual teachers and support staff who are doing their best we are facing an epidemic of mental health problems and educational poverty.

“This is putting enormous pressure on parents and families, many of whom have to give up their livelihoods to look after their children at home. With all the laptops in the world, you still need motivation from parents and when they are working that is very hard, especially with younger children.”

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General secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, Geoff Barton said: “At a time when we are worrying about the mental health of young people, the last thing we need now is no one back in school till after Easter,”

Downing Street and the Department for Education are expected to examine the data this week before making a judgment. 

Education secretary Gavin Williamson has said schools will be given a minimum of two weeks notice to plan a return of pupils. He added that he is hoping to be able to give teachers and parents an update this week. 

However, it is believed the majority of pupils will not return until at least Easter, despite the government aspiring to have pupils returning to schools from February half-term.

It comes after Matt Hancock told Sky News that we are a ‘long, long, long way off’ easing lockdown restrictions.

The health secretary refused to commit to either mid-February or after Easter as a point for schools to reopen with all pupils.

He told the Andrew Marr Show: “We’re really clear we want to get schools back and as safe as we can, but we have to watch the data,”

“Of course I hope schools go back after Easter and the vaccination programme is going fast. But we’ve got to make sure that we get the cases down and we’ve got to protect the country from new variants coming in from abroad.”

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