Many takeaways and restaurants have put up their prices to cover increased costs of ingredients and energy bills. Image: Evie Breese / The Big Issue
Inflation is pushing up the prices of food and fuel to, for some, impossible levels. For many, the only option to avoid falling into in-work poverty is to seek a pay rise to cushion the blow.
People in sectors across Britain have taken strike action as a last-ditch attempt to force their employers to maintain their pay in the face of inflation.
Most recently, 150 tanker drivers for Morrison’s supermarket won an inflation-busting 24% pay rise (13.5% increase for 2022, and 10.5% increase for 2023) by threatening strike action with union Unite.
YouGov polling found that of the 40% of people who asked for a pay rise in 2022, just over a quarter succeeded. However, just one in five women who ask for a pay rise are given one, compared with just under a third of men – just one of the factors contributing to the gender pay gap.
We asked a career expert with over 12 years experience signing off on pay rises at a leading UK bank how to ask for the pay rise you need.
What is the inflation rate and how does it affect pay?
The rate of inflation eased in April, dropping to single digits for the first time since September last year. This means that prices are rising less quickly than they were in previous months. Food prices, however, have continued to surge.
Inflation reached a 41-year high recorded in October last year when it peaked at a staggering 11.1%, and in case you’ve forgotten what “normal times” looked like, CPI inflation has rarely topped 3% in the last decade.
The inflation rate is a measure of how prices change over time. When the cost of a bunch of bananas, petrol or loo roll goes up, that’s because of inflation.
Rising inflation means the value, or spending power, of pay packets is decreasing. A pound today only buys 91.3% of what it could buy this time last year.
Responding to April’s inflation rate, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said: “The IMF [International Monetary Fund] said yesterday we’ve acted decisively to tackle inflation but although it is positive that it is now in single digits, food prices are still rising too fast.”
“So as well as helping families with around £3,000 of cost of living support this year and last, we must stick resolutely to the plan to get inflation down.”
Prime minister Rishi Sunak has promised to halve the rate of inflation this year, though critics were quick to point out that the Office for Budget Responsibility was already predicting the inflation rate to fall to 3.8% by the end of 2023.
“Although welcome news, it is worth noting that an annual rate of 8.7% remains very high by historical standards. In fact, outside of the last extraordinary year, this is still higher than at any point in 33 years of the CPI,” said Matt Whittaker, CEO of Pro Bono Economics.
The price of food has continued to rise at an alarming rate, with average prices rising by 19.4% in the year to March, according to ONS statistics.
“It is also notable that the headline is increasingly being driven by food price inflation, with prices for milk, cheese and eggs rising by 29.3% year-on-year, for example,” Whittaker continued.
“With each passing month in which inflation outstrips pay growth – and we are at 17 and counting – the cumulative effect of the living standards squeeze is becoming harder and harder for many to endure.”
Who got a pay rise in 2022 and 2023?
Official figures show that average monthly pay (excluding bonuses) across the economy increased by 6.7% in the three months to March this year, according to the ONS.
This is higher than normal pay growth, however when adjusted for inflation, it also means that the value of real-terms pay is falling. What’s more, this abnormally high pay rise is not being felt equally across British society, with a substantial gap in how fast rates of pay are rising in the private sector and thought in the public sector, such as healthcare and education.
Wages in the public sector grew by 5.6%, on average, in the same time period, whereas the private sector saw average increases of 7%.
Any yearly pay rise at or below the current rate of inflation is, in real money terms, a pay cut. So you might wish to request a percentage rise to match inflation, and an additional amount to reward your achievements.
However, while it might be tempting to justify your request for a pay rise on the increasing cost of living and inflation, career coach Samantha Lubanzu suggests steering away from this to focus on your individual value.
Lubanzu, who has 12 years experience working as a HR Business Partner at Barclays Bank, explained that sadly, rising inflation is something that everyone is facing, so should not be the basis for your request.
“Most organisations will be having their HR team working on how they can bring their pay up in terms of inflation rises,” she said. This has traditionally been at a rate of 3%, though this is well below current inflation rates.
When calculating the rise you want, she recommends looking at what competitor organisations are paying, alongside inflation, the cost-of-living, and what you need to live the lifestyle you want. Make your request in terms of a percentage rather than an amount of money, she adds, as this is the language the finance or HR team will use.
How to ask your boss for a pay rise?
When it comes to having the conversation, Lubanzu suggests sending your line manager a short email requesting a one to one meeting to include a salary conversation. It’s best to do this face-to-face, or at least over video call.
“The main thing is to focus on what you’re personally bringing to the role,” says Lubanzu, who suggests asking yourself: What do you bring to the role? How can you demonstrate that you’ve been consistently performing highly? And what can you, and only you, do for the organisation?
“You need to focus on your individual contribution to the organisation and how that differentiates you to competitors outside the organisation, so the reasons why they don’t want to lose you,” she continued.
To prepare, you could write a script and practice by recording yourself on your phone and listening to it back.
What to do if your request for a pay rise is denied
If the answer is no, your number one reaction should be to ask for a detailed justification for the decision, and ask what would make it a yes in future, says Lubanzu.
Stay positive, thank them for their consideration, and put in place steps you can take to go back in a few months time with an even stronger case.
It is important to remember, too, that other company benefits can offer value to your working life beyond income. Lubanzu recommends thinking about what other benefits the company could offer you that they might be more willing to concede on.
“It’s really important to understand that money is never really the main driver for individuals to stay in an organisation, there are so many other benefits they need to look at,” she says.
The need for a comprehensive sick pay policy has been drastically highlighted over the pandemic, with statutory sick pay (the minimum amount set by the government that employers must pay), woefully inadequate for anyone to live on.
While your company may deny a pay rise, they may concede to increasing your holiday allowance or improving sick pay policy, or introducing policies to support employees going through the menopause, experiencing bereavement or juggling care commitments.
Allowing flexible working, funding a qualification or allowing a sabbatical, are other ways to boost staff wellbeing that might make staff more eager to stay.
And if a pay rise isn’t possible, a cut to working hours in the form of a four day working week, could be a compromise.
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