ALARM bells are ringing after UK Government sources signalled that Chancellor Rishi Sunak intends to impose a pay freeze on millions of public sector workers, which the SNP said would be a “slap in the face” and threaten another decade of austerity.

The party’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford said the reports would trigger fears in Scotland that the Tories were about to impose another decade of cuts, punishing families and public services.

Sunak will set out his spending review next week but is said to be considering freezing pay for millions, including key workers such as teachers, police, the armed forces and civil servants. Healthcare workers are likely to escape the freeze as a reward for their efforts during the coronavirus crisis.

Blackford said the Tories had failed to learn the lessons of the last 10 years of cuts, which had pushed millions into poverty, squeezed living standards and held the UK economy back. Becoming an independent country was the only way to protect our interests and ensure a strong and fair recovery.

“Reports that the Chancellor is preparing to impose another decade of Tory austerity cuts, including cuts to public services, and a pay freeze that will punish millions of workers, will send alarm bells ringing in Scotland and across the UK,” said Blackford.

“A pay freeze would be a slap in the face for workers who have been on the frontline tackling the coronavirus crisis.

“These Tory cuts would threaten Scotland’s recovery – and come on top of the damage that is already being done by an extreme Brexit, which has taken more than £4 billion out of Scotland’s economy.

“It’s clear the Tories have learnt absolutely nothing from the last decade of Westminster cuts, which pushed millions of people into poverty, damaged public services, squeezed living standards, and held the UK economy back.

“There must be no return to Tory austerity. Instead the Chancellor must announce a fiscal stimulus of at least £80bn to kick-start a green recovery and a major funding increase for our NHS and public services, including a pay rise for workers who have given so much to tackle coronavirus.”

Blackford added: “Scotland shouldn’t have to wait for Westminster to act. It is clearer than ever that the only way to protect Scotland’s interests, and secure the strong and fair recovery we all want to see, is for Scotland to become an independent country.”

The SNP’s shadow chancellor said the Tories should put money in people’s pockets instead of short-changing them.

Alison Thewliss urged Sunak to make the £20 Universal Credit increase permanent, raise Statutory Sick Pay in line with a Real Living Wage, make it available to everyone for longer and bring forward a financial package for the three million people excluded from coronavirus support since the pandemic started.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) has called for social security to be recognised as an effective tool to stimulate the economy and said that plans to axe the Universal Credit rise in April would weaken the lifeline when it is needed most.

Thewliss said: “Rishi Sunak must perform an urgent U-turn on the Tory Government’s planned cuts to Universal Credit and make the £20 uplift permanent and extend it to legacy benefits as part of a wider package of measures to put money in people’s pockets and stimulate the economy

“The UK Spending Review must include meaningful investment to boost household incomes, which have been hit hard by a decade of Tory cuts.

“There must be no return to austerity – especially when we know extreme Tory Brexit plans will already make the whole country poorer.”

SNP international development spokesperson, Chris Law, said the Government risks “inflicting irreparable damage” to the UK’s standing on the world stage if it pushes ahead with reported plans to scrap the aid budget in the middle of a global pandemic which has registered more than 55 million cases worldwide so far.

“The fight against Covid-19 is a global one, with over 55 million registered cases worldwide,” said Law.

Scottish Finance Secretary Kate Forbes, meanwhile, called on Sunak to prioritise public services and economic recovery through a fresh fiscal stimulus package of £98bn – at least 5% of GDP.