I absolutely believe those NHS workers on lower earnings should get a pay rise greater than 1 percent and I will be making that case to the Government.
Alongside Harlow residents, I am hugely appreciative of everything the NHS staff in our Princess Alexandra Hospital have done during this awful pandemic. All of us have directly or indirectly benefited from the extraordinary hard work of NHS staff, who have gone above and beyond to care for us, our family, friends and neighbours.
It is why I have not only fought for hundreds of millions of pounds for a new Harlow Hospital, but also for investment at Princess Alexandra including the £400,000 upgrade to the A&E department and the £2 million needed for urgent infrastructure repairs.
Further to this, I also urged for the restoration of nursing bursaries - which has now happened, meaning more nurses will be able to afford to study. I have been campaigning relentlessly for more nursing and healthcare degree apprenticeships to allow healthcare workers to earn wages whilst they train. (Politics Home, 14 May 2018, link). (Hansard, 9 May 2018, link).
It is also important to note the following.
Over the past three years, the majority of staff have been on what is called, the ‘agenda for change’ pay deal, which included 343,000 nurses and health visitors, plus healthcare assistants and paramedics. This means over one million NHS staff will continue to benefit from multi-year pay deals agreed with trade unions. This has delivered a pay rise of over 12 per cent for newly qualified nurses and will increase junior doctors’ pay scales by 8.2 per cent. The lowest starting salary has been increased within the NHS by over 16 per cent (DHSC, 21 July 2020, link).
The one percent figure is by no means final. The decision will be made by the independent review body and they may make different recommendations for different staff groups. The Government has stated: “In late Spring, we expect the independent pay review bodies to issue their report. We will consider their recommendations carefully”.
£513 million extra is also being spent to help staff with professional development, mental health support and occupational health.
The Government has also enshrined in law an extra £34 billion for the NHS. This extra funding will be delivered in addition to the financial support provided to the NHS throughout the pandemic so far (DHSC, 15 January 2020, link). This year’s budget commits £140.3 billion, up £6.2 billion on last year and next year there will be £147.1 billion made available - a £7 billion increase.
Further to this, specifically to help health services respond to the Covid-19 crisis, the Government has also provided £63 billion for frontline health services this year, with £22 billion made available next year.
The above funding figures show the Government’s commitment to protecting our NHS.
But, having said all this, because of Covid-19, the general situation of the economy and Government finances is pretty bleak. The Government is spending more than £400 billion just to help people and businesses through the pandemic. Our country faces a debt bill of over £2 trillion pounds. Laid out in cash, this is enough money to literally fill Wembley Stadium. The interest on the debt is £49 billion pounds a year (money which could otherwise be spent on public services).
Every decision the Government takes on spending increases, whether it is wages or other spending, (e.g. benefits or public services), means that either we will have to raise taxes - quite possibly income tax - or borrow more. If we keep borrowing billions, we will just have more debt and interest to pay. Borrowing will also mean that we will not have any funds available if there is a bigger economic shock (like what happened in 2008), or another pandemic.
The Government does not take these decisions to be unpopular and they may sometimes get things wrong. But these decisions are being taken under in the difficult economic and financial circumstances our country currently finds itself in as a result of the pandemic.
The other issue is that millions of workers have lost their jobs or their incomes. The Government has to make certain that the decisions it makes do not increase the burden for workers by having to raise taxes, because of higher spending in other areas. Whichever way we look, there are no simple answers to these decisions.
It is easy for the political Opposition parties to campaign for more funding and win themselves short-term popularity, because they do not share any of the responsibility for the difficult spending decisions that the Government has to make.
I have worked hard to get more money from the Government for our NHS in Harlow. I will continue to do all I can to get the investment that our hospital, GP Surgeries and NHS Staff will always need.