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1%: When is a Pay Rise Not a Pay Rise?

Roar writer Danielle Jones on the proposed 1% pay rise for NHS staff.

The government has proposed a 1% pay rise for all NHS staff on the Agenda for Change pay scale. The pay scale applies to all NHS staff aside from GPs, junior doctors, and dentists.

While most public sector jobs have been subjected to a pay freeze, Chancellor Rishi Sunak has proposed a 1% pay rise for the NHS to come into effect beginning April 1.

So with most public sector workers subject to a pay freeze, what’s the big deal with NHS staff getting 1%?

Firstly, the Office for Budget Responsibility has predicted that inflation will rise by 1.5% this year, making a 1% pay rise a real-term pay cut by 0.5%. NHS staff are extremely sympathetic to other public sector workers whose pay freeze means they are suffering a real-term 1.5% pay cut, however NHS staff have worked tirelessly throughout the last year fighting Covid-19 while continuing to keep other critical health services running.

Economist Gavan Conlon, a partner at economics consultancy London Economics, has declared: “When assessing whether the proposed pay increase represents a real-terms increase or cut, it is not sensible to compare a cash increase in 2021 with a measure of inflation in 2020. The proposed 1% pay increase in cash terms represents a real-terms reduction of 0.5%.”

The public lined the streets throughout the United Kingdom for weeks every Thursday night to clap for NHS workers who diligently caring for the sickest victims of Covid-19, risking their own health in the process. To be presented by a real-term pay cut after this display of thanks and affection is nothing more than a slap in the face.

Boris Johnson himself thanked the nurses who cared for him in St Thomas’ hospital by name when he contracted Covid-19. I had previously had a placement on the ward the Prime Minister was treated at, and my heart swelled with pride hearing some of the nurses I had worked with being thanked for the amazing work they do every single day.

Healthcare professionals are increasing burned out, and consider leaving the NHS or even healthcare in general. To be presented with a real-terms pay cut after such a difficult year may be the final straw for those already overworked and stressed.

The government has claimed a 1% increase in pay is all it can afford, but in recent days it has been announced that it will lift the cap on the number of nuclear warheads within the UK as part of a ten billion pound rearmament campaign. It is clear that the “magic money tree” shakes only for certain issues.

While most of those campaigning for a real-terms pay rise for the majority of NHS workers are sympathetic to the pay freezes other public sector workers have been subjected to, one must understand that it is not a race to the bottom. We all need to stand together to campaign for fair working conditions and pay, rather than criticise one group calling for such changes.

Most of the NHS workforce falls under the “Agenda for Change” pay scale, which standardised the pay for different bands and positions across the NHS. When you see hashtags such as “Fair Pay for Nursing”, please remember that if one group of healthcare professionals sees a pay rise, every other worker on the Agenda for Change pay scale will too. Nurses are not calling for an increase only for themselves, but every allied healthcare professional, cleaner, healthcare assistant and administrative team member, that has kept the NHS running throughout the pandemic.

Doctors, dentists, and senior-level management do not have their wages set by the Agenda for Change pay scale. The majority of the NHS workforce is extremely sympathetic to the conditions junior doctors in particular work under, and stood in solidarity when they chose to strike back in 2016.

So, when is a pay rise not a pay rise? Quite simply, when it does not keep up with inflation. When you see headlines about NHS staff receiving a pay rise, bear in mind it is actually a pay cut dressed up in nice wording, and that most see it as a slap in the face after a year of dealing with the sickest people during a global pandemic.

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