Rishi Sunak and Boris Johnson clapping for carers. Rishi Sunak and Boris Johnson clapping for carers. Photo: No. 10 / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, license linked at bottom of article

Health worker Alia Butt calls upon the labour movement to fight for fair pay for NHS staff

For anyone in doubt, the contempt towards public sector workers has very recently been made shockingly obvious. Recently the former head of Ofsted insisted teachers show a similar commitment to their work as NHS workers – all of whom should be willing to lose their lives on the frontline. 

As I type this and allow myself to genuinely digest the suggestion, I can feel my stomach churn and my breath shorten. Neither teachers nor NHS workers should be treated with such callous disrespect, particularly when they have been shown to be so invaluable.

This week’s budget was bad enough. There was some shock but mostly disgust at the realisation that not only was this clearly an austerity budget, but it also means less money for a disingenuously celebrated NHS. We know that a decade of austerity has paved the way for the NHS’s capacity to respond to the Covid-19 crisis being heavily compromised. The pandemic has of course made the situation in the NHS infinitely worse. 

Contrary to what is obviously needed, the budget forecasted a reduction in funding for the NHS, not the opposite. With an apparent £30.1 billion cut to the Department of Health and Social Care, and NHS England set to receive a reduction of almost £9 billion next year, things are looking even more troublesome for an overwhelmed NHS. Furthermore, the failed Serco track and trace service – which has already cost the taxpayer around £23 billion – is set to receive a further £15 billion

Against the backdrop of yet another senseless budget set to take much needed resources from the most vulnerable sections of society, news of a 1% payrise for NHS staff feels nothing short of vindictive. The pandemic has sparked almost a year of praise, adulation, and clapping for those who work in the public sector. 

We have witnessed a newfound respect for the NHS and those who dedicate the best part of their lives to its service; we have seen the rainbow drawings in windows, chalked on roads and the gratitude to the NHS splashed over billboards. Meanwhile, NHS staff have received a variety of different badges in return for working harder than ever before.

The NHS went into the pandemic with over 100,000 staff shortages, as has the much ignored and abused social care system. During the pandemic we have lost hundreds of staff members to Covid19, which is likely linked to the lack of adequate PPE. We are also seeing workers leaving the NHS in droves – at a time where we need more dedicated and well-trained staff than ever before. 

With a backlog of specialist surgery and a mental health crisis worsening by the second, the Government should be incentivising workers more than ever before. The fact that they are point-blank refusing to do this is a symptom of their dishonourable priorities. 

Stories of nurses who have been campaigning for a 15% pay rise over the summer expressing grief at the news of a 1% pay rise are unsurprising. Nurses phoning LBC in tears after hearing of the flagrant 1% pay rise plans, reporting of their colleagues leaving the profession to take up better paid jobs in ALDI are incredibly worrying. 

It is beyond shameful that more and more NHS workers are having to access food banks and a third of nurses are having to skip meals, with this number going up to more than two thirds in BAME communities. These are the individuals caring for the population day and night yet are not afforded enough to feed their own families. 

A senior nurse – receiving one of the highest pay packets in nursing – commented that the 1% pay rise will not even be enough of a rise in her weekly finances to cover the car park charges staff are once again obliged to pay for coming to work every day. 

The saddest part of this whole sorry affair is the fact that nurses – the heart of healthcare – take pride and joy in their work, as do many of us in the NHS. The very last thing we would ever want to do is let our patients down. But with no sight of any remuneration for NHS workers, many are left with little choice than to leave or indeed fight for something better. 

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) referred to the pay rise as ‘pitiful’ and has made indication of a possible strike, post ballot. Many NHS workers are very used to fighting tooth and nail for our patients, for their better health and happiness. 

The very last thing we want to do is strike, given the potential risks to patient care, but without the government prioritising the NHS or the public demanding we deserve more than just claps, the future looks uncertain for all involved.

This pathetic pay offer is part of a generalised assault on workers’ pay and conditions. Other public sectors have already been hit with a pay freeze, while private sector employers are using ‘fire and rehire’ tactics to force workers to pay for a crisis they have already spent a year suffering through. 

We need all unions and all parts of the labour movement to back us in opposing this dehumanising treatment of key workers. We must not accept the pay freeze while always bearing in mind: our fight is your fight!

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