Monday, 4 March 2013

Another myth bites the dust

Throughout history, at times of serious economic instability, we have seen how the politics of divide and rule have risen to prominence, often fueled by sections of the media. In this economic crisis, a whole range of scapegoats have been presented as the cause of our problems. Of course, issues which fit the currently dominant political ideology are likely to be promoted and repeated – never let the facts get in the way of the story you want to tell.

The Conservative-led coalition government has a very strong ideological view – put simply, ‘private-sector good; public-sector bad’. It not only wants to minimise the state – reflecting Margaret Thatcher’s ‘there’s no such thing as society’ – but it also wants, as far as possible, to privatise those things which it believes the state will have to do. People are only just beginning to realize how every part of our National Health Service is intended to be privatized.

Since the start of this economic crisis, government ministers – supported by various ideological friends and parts of the media – have been persistently promoting the view that there is a ‘public sector pay premium’. In other words, they have consistently alleged that public sector workers receive better pay and conditions than their counterparts in the private sector. For example, a big headline in the Daily Telegraph claimed that ‘public sector workers were ‘more than 40 per cent better off’ than employees in the private sector’.

Last week, a major study - ‘Public Sector Pay Premium’ – Fact or Fiction? by Income Data Services – simply blew apart the analysis on which these headlines and stories had been based.

Basically, the report said that ‘the substantial differences in income levels and occupational characteristics mean that average pay in any one sector will reflect all the complexity of skill mix, qualification, experience, responsibility, gender and seniority in each sector. This makes it even harder to draw simple comparisons.’ In other words, you shouldn’t compare apples and pears.

Further, IDS and other organisations consistently found that rather than there being a public sector ‘pay premium’, pay and conditions in the public sector are below those in the private sector for comparable roles.

Another myth bites the dust.