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© Reuters. Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer Sunak outside Downing Street, in London

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LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s government will pause pay rises for public sector workers except those in the health service and on lower incomes, finance minister Rishi Sunak said on Wednesday, describing the measure as a way to target those “who need it most”.

Sunak said he had to address the “disparity” between public and private sector wages in a move opposition parties said penalised the very people who have been on the frontline of Britain’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In such a difficult context for the private sector – especially for people working in sectors like retail, hospitality, or leisure – I cannot justify a significant, across-the-board pay increase for all public sector workers,” he told parliament.

“Instead, we are targeting our resources at those who need it most … What this means … is that while the government is making the difficult decision to control public sector pay, the majority of public sector workers will see their pay increase next year. And we want to do more for the lowest paid.”

But Anneliese Dodds, finance policy chief for Britain’s main opposition Labour Party, said the move would not only hurt those who see their pay frozen but also damage consumer confidence.

“Earlier this year the Chancellor stood on his doorstep and clapped for key workers,” she said. “Today, his government institutes a pay freeze for many of them. This takes a sledgehammer to consumer confidence.”

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