Asked for the Government’s reaction to the latest strike announcement, the Prime Minister’s Spokesperson (PMS) said the Government wanted an open and constructive dialogue with unions. The Government was responding to Lord Hutton’s report on public sector pensions, which would remain among the very best. Freezing pay for wages over £21,000 had helped to preserve jobs.
Asked whether the Government felt the ballot’s low turnout meant the unions had no mandate to strike, the PMS noted that one in five PCS members voted for action and said that the Government would keep the issue of strike law under review. Public sector strikes were low and there was no compelling case to change the law at the moment. Francis Maude was leading discussions with the unions and the Government was seeking to engage with them.
Put that any changes to strike laws would take place after any strikes, the PMS said the laws in place were appropriate and we would continue talking to unions. There was a compelling case for the reform of pensions.
Asked whether the PM accepted that 7000 people suffering from cancer will be affected by the change in benefits policy, the PMS said he did not recognise that figure but the Government needed to reform the system because the welfare budget had increased year-on-year, which was unfair to taxpayers, unaffordable and trapping people in a cycle of benefits.
When asked what would happen to those whose illness could last longer than 12 months, the PMS said that they would be independently assessed. If their illness had a severe effect on their ability to work then they would receive ESA. If it was judged that they could return to work at some point, then after 12 months ESA would be means tested.
Asked whether the PM would apologise, the PMS pointed out that his comments at PMQs set out the Government’s position accurately.