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NHS Pay Rise: Is 1% all the government can afford?

As many will know, the government recently announced their plan to offer NHS workers a 1% pay rise. This announcement has caused a considerable amount of unrest and anger among NHS employees and health unions, and for good reason.  The 1% rise suggested by the Department of Health and Social Care, and supported by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, would be applied to all NHS staff, apart from junior doctors, Gps and dentists, who all have separate pay deals.

While this raise has been presented to the general public and workers as a kindness and something to be grateful for, there are many reasons why this plan is not as good as the government have attempted to make it sound.

The uproar of protest towards this plan has been immense.  Christina Mcanea (general secretary of The Public Service Union: UNISON) has said that the proposal is ‘an insult to the staff that are (…) still in the heat of the battle against COVID-19‘ and the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) have set up a £35million industrial action fund to support workers if they should chose to strike. Both responses are absolutely justified given the circumstances.

The proposal is completely ludicrous. For one, a 1% pay increase will not even cover the expected inflation rate for the coming year which is 1.3%, making this so called ‘pay rise’ essentially a pay cut. NHS staff have been through a year of absolute hell; understaffed and overworked, they have had to face an unprecedented health crisis. Yet, when it comes to being rewarded for their hard work the government has chosen to completely let them down.

Meanwhile, the prime minister and many conservative MPs are defending the proposal based on the fact that NHS workers are being exempt from a wider pay freeze of the entire public sector and that they can’t possibly afford to give NHS workers a higher raise due to the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on the country’s economy.

This potential 1% pay increase is more than just a disappointment for NHS staff, it’s a broken promise. The Government previously promised and budgeted for a 2.1% increase for 2021-22, a measure which was voted in by MPs in 2018, and yet this provision has suddenly been completely disregarded without being put to a vote.

Not to mention, the government’s claim that they can’t possibly put any more money towards NHS salaries hasn’t got two legs to stand on. As labour leader Sir Keir Starmer pointed out to the prime minister in a heated debate in the house of commons on Wednesday the 10th of March, he claims to be unable to provide health care workers with decent pay and yet he was able to provide his advisor Dominic Cummings with a 40% pay increase less than 4 months ago. Not to mention the £2.6million that has been spent refurbishing n°9 Downing Street in order to make it into a space to hold televised press briefings.

With all this in mind, the argument that the government simply doesn’t have the funds, seems more like an excuse than a valid reason.

Furthermore, if we take into account the impact the last decade has had on healthcare worker’s pay we gain a whole new understanding of just how devasting this decision is for NHS staff. David Cameron’s government’s austerity measures back in 2010, which froze all public sector pay for two years and then set a cap of 1% on pay rises until 2018, were so devasting to the healthcare sector that with the impact of inflation some NHS salaries are currently worth less than they were over a decade ago.

For the prime minister and his government to then believe that their proposition of a 1% pay rise correctly rewards the incredibly draining and literally life threatening work NHS staff have had to do this year is ridiculous.

All throughout the pandemic the prime minister and many other conservative MPs, including Matt Hancock (Secretary of State for Health and Social Care) and Rishi Sunak (Chancellor of the Exchequer), have expressed their gratitude and appreciation for NHS workers. The prime minister has said himself, on multiple occasions, that he owes his life to NHS doctors and nurses and yet when it comes to simply paying them fairly none of them have chosen to do so.

While the response from workers and various unions has been primarily of disappointment for the current employees, they have also expressed a serious concern for the future of the NHS. Again, the government have claimed to be greatly concerned with the future of the NHS and the hiring and training of future doctors and nurses, and yet their decision will also impact these future generations.

In a BBC Breakfast interview with Nadine Dorries (Minister for Mental Health, Suicide Prevention and Patient Safety) presenter Naga Munchetti raised precisely these questions. When Dorries expressed the hope to see ‘a record number‘ of people applying this year to become NHS nurse, Munchetti was quick to question this absurd hope by asking if the health minister truly believed that would happen, to which she answered: ‘I believe nurses are about more than superficial soundbites. I believe that nurses love their job’. 

Nurses most probably do love their job, however, to go through what they have been through this year and to receive essentially no more recognition than a few hand claps outside of downing street from their government certainly doesn’t seem fair.

It seems, in fact, as if those entrusted with making these important decisions are horribly out of touch with the people they are meant to be protecting. Not only is a 1% pay rise nowhere near enough what healthcare workers deserve, but as we have seen, it can hardly even be considered a pay rise. The final decision on whether this plan goes ahead will take place in May, which leaves a slight glimmer of hope.

The 14 NHS unions, the RNC, UNISON, and many others are all fighting to increase the pay rise to a more respectable and fair number, and will surely be looking for public support.  So, I suggest keeping an eye on their websites to see what we, the general public, can do to help support the workers we rely on so much.

Ruby Batt

Bristol '22

I'm Ruby!! I'm currently studying at the University of Bristol doing a BA in English Literature :)
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