Rishi Sunak has been condemned for using “disingenuous” figures after he repeated a claim that meeting union demands for public sector pay awards would cost every household £1,000 extra a year.
Speaking at an RAF base in Lincolnshire, where he was meeting service personnel who miay be deployed to replace striking staff, including ambulance crews and border staff, the prime minister said he would not give way despite a slew of planned stoppages.
“What I’m not going to do is ask ordinary families up and down the country to pay an extra £1,000 a year to meet the pay demands of the union bosses,” Sunak said. “That wouldn’t be right and it wouldn’t be fair.”
The £1,000 figure, used by several ministers in recent days, is based on a government estimate that meeting an 11% pay rise for all public sector staff would cost a total of £28bn, spread around 28 million UK households.
The calculation has been called into question, however, given that not every part of the public sector is striking, and that awards recommended by pay review bodies and accepted by ministers average about 5% anyway.
Ed Davey, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, said: “These disingenuous figures show just how desperate the government is to deflect blame for bringing the country to a standstill. The only reason that families are paying more tax is that Conservative ministers broke the economy.
“On the steps of Downing Street, Rishi Sunak promised his government would be one of integrity and accountability. Instead it seems he’s using Boris Johnson’s playbook and Liz Truss’s calculator.”
Sunak remains committed to the possibility of extending anti-strike legislation to prevent industrial action by emergency service workers such as nurses, and to passing a law decreeing minimum service levels for the country’s infrastructure such as the rail network, in effect limiting the ability to strike.
“I’m not going to get into details now, we’re looking at all options,” Sunak said. “But what I can say is my priority is to always be reasonable – and that’s what we’re going to continue to do – but also to make sure we protect lives and minimise the disruption to people’s lives.”
Downing Street passed questions about the calculation to the Treasury, which was contacted for details.
No 10 has declined to say when it may act on new anti-strike laws. Sunak’s deputy spokesperson said on Friday that Downing Street was confident a minimum service level law would be effective, despite doubts raised by rail industry and transport policy figures.
Thousands of Royal Mail workers who are members of the Communication Workers Union staged a large rally outside parliament on Friday during a strike over pay and conditions.
Also due to take strike action in the coming days are nurses, paramedics, rail workers and Border Force officials.