Ministers are on a collision course with tens of millions of NHS employees as they insisted the nation couldn’t afford a greater than 1% pay rise for well being staff whilst nurses leaders raised the prospect of strike motion.
The well being secretary, Matt Hancock, on Friday insisted the choice to advocate such a small improve was because of an evaluation of “what’s inexpensive as a nation” after the financial toll taken by the coronavirus disaster.
However amid fury from throughout the general public sector, some Conservative MPs expressed fears the federal government was heading for a humbling U-turn just like that carried out over free college meals.
Requested repeatedly at a Downing Avenue press convention concerning the plan, introduced on Thursday to a livid response from unions, Hancock argued he had secured a great deal for NHS employees, saying he was “very happy” they’d been excluded from a wider public sector pay freeze.
Quizzed about his repeated reward for NHS staff over the course of the pandemic, Hancock insisted he couldn’t be extra beneficiant: “We do have problems with the affordability due to the implications of the pandemic on the general public funds, which have been set out within the finances this week.”
Hancock additionally dominated out the thought of a one-off cost for well being employees in recognition of their work within the pandemic, as promised by the Scottish government to its workforce, saying this “isn’t the strategy we have now chosen to take”.
Responding to a query from the Nursing Instances a few potential staffing disaster if demoralised nurses stop in giant numbers, Hancock mentioned his grandmother had been a nurse in Lincolnshire, including: “I bow to no one in my admiration for nurses.”
The Royal Faculty of Nursing (RCN) has described the 1% determine as pitiful, holding an emergency assembly that agreed to arrange a £35m fund to assist members in the event of a strike.
Whereas this doesn’t make industrial motion inevitable, it illustrated the energy of feeling amongst NHS staff, with the British Medical Affiliation and unions representing different employees equally livid.
The NHS Confederation, which represents hospital trusts and different organisations, expressed alarm on the prospect of a strike. “This isn’t the situation anybody would need, however this clearly exhibits the depth of feeling on the RCN,” its chief govt, Danny Mortimer, mentioned.
In one other signal of the PR battle to return, the Unison commerce union is organising a public slow handclap for this Thursday night to protest on the pay supply, mimicking the weekly applause for NHS employees amid the primary Covid lockdown.
One Conservative MP mentioned he had already been contacted by constituents angered by the pay choice, which he known as “an appalling PR transfer, aside from anything”.
One other backbencher mentioned of the coverage: “It may well’t maintain,” saying the federal government ought to have gone as an alternative for an increase of as much as 3% for lower-paid frontline employees.
NHS Suppliers, one other membership organisation for hospital trusts and well being providers, has queried Downing Avenue’s insistence that 1% is all that might be afforded, pointing to the truth that a long-term budget plan agreed in 2019 factored in funding for a pay rise of two.1% in 2021/22.
Whereas the calculations have been made earlier than the financial injury of Covid, Saffron Cordery, deputy head of NHS Suppliers mentioned, it might be flawed for the federal government to be “snatching deliberate pay rises from the pockets of deserving NHS employees” to make up the shortfall.
The 1% determine, which is for workers throughout the UK, will now be thought-about by the Assessment Physique on Medical doctors’ and Dentists’ Remuneration, and likewise the NHS pay assessment physique, which covers nurses and different employees. Each are anticipated to report again in Might, with remaining selections made by Hancock or the related devolved administration.
Whereas pay rises have been extra beneficiant in recent times – a 2018 deal gave nurses and different well being employees a wage rise of no less than 6.5% over three years – this adopted a close to pay freeze for seven years throughout the interval of austerity politics. Official inflation forecasts additionally anticipate this to rise above 1% this yr and subsequent.
The TUC mentioned on Friday that its evaluation confirmed the cumulative impact was that if the 1% improve goes by way of for 2021-22, nurses’ pay can be £2,500 lower than in 2010 when adjusted for inflation, with equal falls of £3,330 for paramedics and £850 for porters. A 1% rise can be “a hammer blow to employees morale”, the TUC’s basic secretary, Frances O’Grady, mentioned.
Downing Avenue has additionally defended the supply as “what’s inexpensive”, whereas declining to utterly rule out any eventual improve. “We is not going to pre-empt the suggestions of the impartial pay assessment our bodies,” Boris Johnson’s spokesman mentioned.
Some Conservative MPs have speculated that the 1% determine may find yourself being a gap supply, supposed to restrict any improve, given the RCN’s request for a 12.5% rise. “It’s higher to attract the road nearer to the beginning than to the top of the race, to cease the snowball,” one mentioned.
One other Conservative backbencher mentioned a lot would rely upon the upcoming political battle, with Labour hoping to “flip it into one other free college meals”, when the federal government backed down over vacation provision after a marketing campaign led by the footballer Marcus Rashford.