Pay up Now

Enough is enough. The government’s NHS pay policy has to change and that change is starting to look more and more likely. Austerity erodes the fabric of the NHS and harms our society. The government talks about efficiencies and saving money, and for a while the public have believed this rhetoric. But now there is a change of public opinion. People are starting to see the long-term effects of starving the NHS of funds and enough is enough.
By Alan Lofthouse National Ambulance Officer, UNISON

Alan Lofthouse, National Officer, Health Group


Retention of staff is not a problem just for ambulance services. All over the NHS staff are taking the difficult decision to leave jobs they love as inflation has eaten into their living standards and the seven-year pay freeze has meant people are struggling to get by between pay days. As I travel the country meeting exceptional and dedicated NHS staff I hear firsthand the stories
and the feelings of people worried about making ends meet, paying bills, feeding their children and putting fuel in their car to get to work.

It is time we changed that. This is why UNISON, along with the other 13 health unions, have submitted a pay claim to the government. NHS staff will not accept the pay freeze any longer. Our pay claim is based on 3 elements. First, a rise in line with inflation (RPI currently 3.9%); second, a sum of £800 to begin to address the wage stagnation caused by the pay freeze; thirdly, investment to reform Agenda for Change bands 1 – 3 to make the pay system for the lowest paid fairer and faster.

UNISON has launched its “Pay Up Now” campaign and, due to political pressure from our members on politicians, there will be a parliamentary debate on NHS pay in early December. To make this successful we need all our NHS members to take part in local campaigning, keeping the pressure on employers and politicians alike. The government certainly won’t hand this to NHS workers on a plate without a fight, but we don’t know how much of a fight it will be.

We know that the government have signaled an end to the unpopular public sector pay cap, mostly due to the pressure from the public .As part of the pay claim the joint unions commissioned ComRes to undertake public polling in England, Scotland and Cymru/Wales. They sampled members of the public, asked about the overall position of NHS pay policy and tested different elements of the claim. They found that 84% of the public support removing the pay cap and 83% support an NHS pay increase in line with, or above cost of living (RPI inflation), and finally just over two-thirds support a flat rate of £800 on top.

NHS pay is no longer a left versus right political issue. Politicians are asking their party what they are doing to protect jobs in the NHS and pushing for investment in nursing staff, ambulance staff, porters, cleaners and carers. We have already seen the treasury give the Secretary of State for Health some “latitude” over pay but worryingly this is used along with the term “increased productivities”.

Those who work in the NHS will be forgiven for wondering what there is left to make more efficient in a health service that has been hit by year after year of cost saving plans. Maybe the productivity they are talking about is better retention of staff, lower turnover and higher morale. This will certainly help the NHS be more productive, but it still needs an element of investment which the government needs to find.

So, at the time of writing this in November, we are calling on the Chancellor of the Exchequer to make sure he puts up the cash in the Autumn budget to ensure NHS staff get a proper pay rise. We need to make sure the funding is made available to NHS organisations, not through yet more cuts.

The NHS is not alone. Other public services are seeking to end the pay cap. None of this is good for the economy or our society. Austerity has savaged parts of this country and left its mark. It is time we move to a better way of funding our public services. I say we start by paying the right amount to hard working NHS staff. Let us care for those who care for us.

UNISON has plenty of campaigning advice and materials. I urge the reader to not sit back and wait for the government to pay up, but find out what is going on locally and support it to ensure they pay up now. If there is no campaigning where you are then get active, get involved and become part of the movement that stands up for peoples’ rights and pay.


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