The government's revised offer of a 3% pay increase for NHS workers is far too little, too late. After months of delay, the latest offer put forward by the government is only a slight improvement 1% “increase” that was unveiled in March this year, and falls far short of the pay demands that have been staked out by all of the major health trade unions in recent months.
With staff suffering a loss in real wage value of 8-30% over the last decade (large numbers losing 15-20%) and annual inflation rising to 2.5% in June, a 3% increase is a totally inadequate response to the challenges facing our health service. A substantial pay rise is desperately needed and long overdue. There are over 100,000 unfilled NHS vacancies, showing that the recruitment and retention of staff – already badly depressed before the Covid pandemic struck – is continuing to suffer. Every day brings fresh indications of staff reaching breaking point from trauma and exhaustion, after 16 long months in which the government has neglected and mistreated both the NHS and the health and care workforce at every turn. This has a devastating knock-on effect on patients, who suffer and die unnecessarily in hospitals plagued by the entirely avoidable problems of under-funding and under-staffing. The systematic under-remuneration of NHS staff is one aspect of a broader war of attrition against our health service, which is now under fresh attack from the new Health and Care Bill, which paves the way for more expansive privatisations with even less public input accountability.
It is not true, as the government has argued, that there is simply “no money” to offer staff a proper pay rise. Since March 2020, huge amounts of public funding have been lavished on private firms, ranging from the “VIP lane” for dubious PPE procurement outfits, to the bailout of private hospitals last year, to the farcical Test-and-Trace programme overseen by Serco and Baroness Dido Harding. The cost of meeting health workers’ demand for a restorative 15% pay increase would be a fraction of the £37 billion spent so far on this latter project alone – a project that, according to a report in March this year from the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, has been so poorly run that it has made “no clear difference” to the course of the pandemic in the UK.
Earlier this month, we were proud to help coordinate a nationwide day of protest that saw health workers and campaigners take to the streets in over 70 locations nationwide on the 73rd anniversary of the founding of our health service. Health workers will now be discussing the best way forward to press their demand for real pay justice. Keep Our NHS Public will continue to stand right behind health workers, and the NHS they serve, as they and their unions take this fight forward.