Chancellor Philip Hammond has made his second reported gaffe after claiming that public sector workers were “overpaid”.
According to the Sunday Times, citing multiple sources, Hammond made the comment during a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday.
Ministers had been discussing the cap on public sector pay increases. Under the current structure, wages effectively only go up by a maximum of 1% each year.
Hammond reportedly argued there was no need to raise that cap.
“Public-sector workers are overpaid when you take into account pensions,” he said, according to the Sunday Times. He described train drivers as “ludicrously overpaid”.
He reportedly said driving a train was so easy that “even a woman” could do it.
Prime minister Theresa May responded with: “Chancellor, I am going to take your shovel away from you.”
The Treasury confirmed that Hammond said public sector workers receive a “10% premium” in income over private sector workers, but denied his use of the word “overpaid”. It hasn’t commented on his remark about train drivers.
The government has flip-flopped on raising the 1% cap on public sector pay. Senior Tories have publicly come out in favour of a raise in the last few weeks, with former cabinet minister Robert Halfon telling Radio 4’s Today programme on Friday: “I think we need to remove the public sector cap.”
Halfon suggested the UK could cut its foreign aid budget to fund pay rises.
The 1% pay rise cap for public sector workers has been in place since 2012 and is expected to remain until at least 2018/19.