Almost £30 million in “reward and recognition” vouchers have been distributed to civil servants dwhile a pay dispute sees 1,000 Home Office employees out on strike this week. Sixteen government departments have distributed a total of £29.57 million in high-street vouchers to staff, which is an increase on the previous figure of £22.2 million last year and £17.9 million in 2018-19, according to departmental data provided to Labour.
This is an increase of a third more than in 2020-21 and two-thirds more than in 2018-19.
The “Edenred” vouchers are reportedly redeemable at locations like Argos, Asda, Greggs, Iceland, John Lewis, M&S, Nando’s, Pizza Hut, Primark, TK Maxx, WH Smith and Wilko.
The scheme bills itself as “building stronger connections with employees, customers, sales teams, and channel partners to drive higher engagement and performance”, and Edenred rewards employees with vouchers or pre-paid cards.
The Foreign Office distributed the most vouchers, totalling £9.9 million, an increase of 16.6 percent over the past four years.
The Home Office was second in the list, handing out £6.6m worth of vouchers – more than double what was handed out last year (£2.8 million in 2020-21 and £1.2 million in 2018-19).
The Department of Work and Pensions gave out £5.9 million in vouchers, which was a 15 percent increase since 2018-19.
The Ministry of Justice also more than doubled its voucher allocation, costing £4.9 million this year compared to £2.1 million from four years ago.
Several government departments, like The Ministry of Defence, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Ministry of Health are reportedly yet to provide figures for their voucher programmes.
READ MORE: ‘Coordinated, synchronised and escalating’ strikes possible in New Year, warns union chief
Labour has talked of Tory “double standards” in the voucher’s distribution.
Florence Eshalomi, Shadow cabinet office minister, said: “No-one would dispute that hard-working civil servants deserve to be recognised for their efforts, especially those who went the extra mile during the pandemic, but once again, what we see in these figures is a Tory government guilty of rank double standards.”
“At the same time that ministers are refusing even to discuss the subject of pay with our nation’s nurses, we now discover they got around their own pay freeze last year by giving out record numbers of non-cash vouchers to Whitehall staff instead.”
According to The Sun, a government spokesperson has said: “Reward and recognition schemes have a positive impact on staff morale.”
“All individual awards follow an established approval process to ensure value for money.”
When in post as Chancellor, Rishi Sunak implemented a one-year, post-Covid pay freeze on Whitehall staff.
Members of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), which represents UK government workers, currently has 1000 of its members that work in the Home Office out on strike in a dispute over “a 10 percent pay rise, pensions justice, job security and no cuts to redundancy terms.”
Over 100,000 PCS members representing 214 government departments and other public bodies have voted to take strike action, with PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka saying: “The government can stop these strikes tomorrow if it puts money on the table. “
Inflation has also hit record levels over the previous few months, leading to many other unions, representing all manner of sectors, to call for pay rises in line with inflation, well as the protection of job conditions.
In the last update from the Office for National Statistics, the Consumer Prices Index rose by 10.7 percent in the 12 months leading up to November 2022. However, that was down from 11.1 percentin October.