We need to keep talking about pay.
Over the last week, NHS pay has been a high-profile issue after the government recommended a 1% pay rise. I struggle to find the best word to describe this. Insulting? Derisory? Damaging?
One minute government ministers are talking about the debt of gratitude we all owe to NHS workers. But apparently that debt is only worth a couple of extra pounds a week.
While the media only want to talk about nurses, we need to keep talking about the success of the NHS is built not just on their hard work but that of porters, cleaners, health care assistants, bed managers, medical secretaries, paramedics and dozens of other job roles. Every single one of them should get a pay rise of at least £2000.
Everyone in the NHS has had the most torrid of years. They have witnessed unprecedented levels of death. They have worked longer hours. They have worried about bringing Covid back home and endangering their loved ones. They have cared for their colleagues and friends when they fell ill with Covid.
A decent pay rise won’t ease the pain but all these workers deserve something that reflects the nation’s gratitude.
We need to keep talking about the consequences of not investing in the NHS workforce. The fact that this time last year, before the first lockdown, there were 100,000 vacancies in the NHS. How a decent pay rise might convince an exhausted, demoralised NHS worker to stay and play their part in caring for us when we need them.
Last night UNISON, alongside other health unions, organised a slow handclap so the public could show the government they back a fair deal for NHS staff. The campaign will continue. We know the public are supportive. We can, and we will, convince the government to back down.
This week I was invited to a couple of on-line meetings of UNISON members in Hertfordshire. I spoke to social workers, librarians, university administrators, youth workers, social care staff, housing officers, laboratory technicians. We need to keep talking about their pay too. If a 1% pay award for NHS staff is derisory then a pay freeze for local government and higher education staff is contemptuous.
They may not have the media profile of other public service workers but they too have played a vital role in helping their communities in the last year. Their dedication, commitment and flexibility will help get our country back on its feet as Covid restrictions ease.
They know too well that their weekly food bills or the cost of their children’s school shoes hasn’t frozen. They know that their council tax wont be frozen – it will go up by 5%.
So for the sake of all public service workers – regardless of their employer – UNISON will not just talk about pay. We will do whatever it takes to campaign for a decent pay rise for everyone. The key question isn’t whether the country can afford to, its whether it can afford not to.