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UK public-sector workers on COVID-19 frontline to get pay rises

·2-min read
FILE PHOTO: Outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in London
FILE PHOTO: Outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in London

LONDON (Reuters) - Almost one million public-sector workers in Britain are to be given above-inflation pay rises, the government said on Tuesday, to reflect their work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Britain has been the European country worst hit by the virus, with an official death toll of more 45,000. The crisis has shown that many of the people critical to the country's functioning are among the lowest paid.

Teachers will receive the largest overall increase at 3.1%, while doctors and dentists will be given rises of 2.8%.

The police will get a 2.5% increase and members of the armed forces will receive 2%, the government said.

More than a million nurses and hospital staff have previously agreed a separate pay settlement, which works out at 4.4% this year.

"These past months have underlined what we always knew – that our public sector workers make a vital contribution to our country and that we can rely on them when we need them," Rishi Sunak, Britain's finance minister, said.

Wage growth in Britain was slowing before COVID-19, falling to an annual rate of 2.8% in the three months to end-February, before the crisis caused average total pay to drop -0.3% in March-June, the first negative figure since 2014.

Inflation fell to a four-year low of 0.5% in May, before rising slightly to 0.6% in June.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been criticised for his response to the crisis, with opposition parties and some scientists saying the government was too slow to lock down, too slow to do widespread testing and not clear in its messaging.

Johnson, who won a large majority last year, hopes to revive his fortunes by returning to his pledge to focus spending on traditional Labour-supporting areas that backed his Conservatives.

Despite a surge in borrowing to pay for the response to COVID-19, Johnson has said his government will not return to the austerity policies seen under Conservative former prime minister, David Cameron.

Public sector pay was frozen for all but the lowest earners in 2010 and increases were limited to 1% a year from 2013 to 2018 to reduce the budget deficit.

(Reporting by Andrew MacAskill and Paul Sandle; editing by Barbara Lewis)