NHS unions, including MiP, have broken with tradition and submitted a pay claim directly to the government on behalf of more than one million health workers across the UK. Although pay for NHS staff on Agenda for Change has been nominally set by an independent pay review body since 1986, unions believe the government’s 1% cap on public sector pay rises means NHS pay is effectively determined by the Treasury.
In a letter setting out the formal pay claim, unions called on chancellor Phillip Hammond to earmark funds in the November Budget for a 3.9% pay rise – in line with inflation as measured by the Retail Price Index. The claim also calls for an additional flat-rate rise of £800 for each member of staff – to restore some of the pay lost over the past seven years and to tackle the scourge of poverty pay in the NHS.
The unions argue that the RPI is a better measure of the rises in the cost of living facing NHS workers as it includes housing costs, which are excluded from the government’s preferred measure, the Consumer Prices Index (CPI). In August the CPI stood at 2.9%.
NHS managers on Agenda for Change, along with almost everyone else who works for the NHS, have suffered real terms pay cuts of around 15% since 2010 because of the government’s harsh pay policies, the unions say.
“We believe the government has undermined the role of the independent pay review body and severely restricted its ability to make recommendations. Health unions are therefore seizing the initiative today and going directly to the government,” said MiP chief executive Jon Restell.
“Managers in the NHS know how the cap has hit their own pay, and that of their staff. They see the damage it’s doing to NHS services by making it harder and harder to recruit and keep good staff. Patients need the best staff and our staff need a fair pay rise,” he added.
UNISON head of health Sara Gorton (pictured) said that meeting the unions’ claim would help struggling hospital trusts to attract new recruits and hold onto experienced staff. “Continuing with the pay cap will further damage services, and that affects us all,” she warned. “The government must give the NHS the cash it needs so its entire workforce gets a decent rise, without the need for more services to be cut.”
Following the announcement of pay awards above 1% for police and prison officers in early September, Gorton warned against a selective lifting of the cap in the NHS. “All public servants, no matter where in the country they live or what job they do, deserve a proper pay rise,” she added.
Public “right behind” NHS pay claim
The unions’ campaign for a decent pay rise for NHS staff was given a boost by a new poll in September which showed overwhelming public support for ending the government’s cap on NHS pay.
The poll of over 2,000 people by ComRes found that 84% supported removing the 1% cap on pay rises for NHS staff, while 83% supported increasing pay for all NHS staff to meet or exceed the cost of living as measured by the RPI, currently 3.9%
The public also strongly backed moves to restore some of the losses NHS staff have suffered after seven years of severe pay restraint, with 69% supporting the unions’ demand for an additional flat-rate £800 for all NHS staff. The poll also found that 77% of people thought low pay was a reason why many staff were leaving the NHS, and 74% thought it deterred young people from choosing NHS careers.
MiP chief executive Jon Restell said: “The public backs the main planks of our pay claim. This is the same public that values and relies on the care provided by NHS staff. The ball is now in the government’s court. It must respond meaningfully to the pay claim, which the public are right behind.”