More likely to die and more likely to suffer long term effects of Covid-19, our frontline workers have undoubtedly shouldered the heaviest burden of the pandemic.
In recognition of their commitment and sacrifice, we were encouraged to come out and clap for our carers during the early months of lockdown. Rainbow pictures were hung in windows to thank our NHS. The public gratitude was universal.
But clapping and rainbows don’t pay the bills.
When we came into this pandemic, there was a shortage of 44,000 nurses. A survey in December 2020 showed that nearly a third of nurses were planning to leave the profession in 2021. This exodus is hardly surprising when you learn that 64% were obliged to work overtime to pay their bills and over a third of nurses (39%) had skipped meals to save money or in order to feed their family.
Last week, in recognition of the commitment shown by our NHS, Rishi Sunak promised a mere 1% pay-rise for nurses. This was contrary to the promise of 2.1% given by Theresa May in 2018. The government U-turn was defended by Health Minister Nadine Dorries on the basis that after the pandemic, 1% was all the government could afford, that no other public sector worker will receive a pay rise, and that many private sector workers will have lost their jobs.
However, while the government resists a meaningful pay-rise for the most beleaguered of our frontline workers, we learn that the government is able to afford a further £15 billion to fund the privatised test and trace service. This means that so far, the outsourced test and trace service has cost the taxpayer £37 billion. This, despite the Public Accounts Committee declaring today that it is hard to point to a “measurable impact” that the service had made. The Government’s own scientific advisors said in October that the privatised system is only having a “marginal impact” on the pandemic. Notwithstanding this failure, Serco (one the main track and trace contractors) reported that profits had risen by 20% in 2020, such that this year it is able to pay a dividend to its shareholders for the first time since 2014.
In its hard-hitting advertising campaign, the Government urges us to take responsibility for our actions and protect the NHS. We hear of the physical and mental exhaustion faced by our frontline workers. The relentless words: Stay Home, Save Lives and Protect the NHS.
But how seriously is the government’s commitment to protect the NHS when it won’t pay the staff a professional, living wage, while it remains able to find billions of pounds to pursue a failing test and trace strategy?
If the government were serious about protecting the NHS, it would pay its employees properly. Perhaps if some of the sums paid to the failed test and trace service were paid instead to our nurses in recognition of their commitment, professionalism and sacrifice, we might not think that the government’s hand-wringing defence that the public purse is empty was not simply another dishonest cover for crony backslapping.
Ed: Another of our writers, Andy Milroy, has this to say:
The people of Britain demand NHS Heroes get the substantial pay rise they so richly deserve.
Boris Johnson repeatedly stood outside No 10 Downing Street and clapped for the NHS. Skilled NHS workers had protected and nursed him through his severe bout of Covid. He owed his life to the NHS nursing staff.
Now all the talk about NHS Heroes has been shown to be just a meaningless smokescreen. The government has proposed a mere 1% increase in NHS salaries, despite over 600 NHS and social care workers dying from Coronavirus. Already facing huge stress and personal danger, they are now kicked in the teeth!
The government maintain they cannot afford any more. Yet they were willing to squander millions of tax-payers’ money on PPE contracts for their cronies, often those who had little or no experience in such areas, resulting, too often, in PPE that was simply not fit for purpose.
Closer to home Boris Johnson has spent £200,000 on re-decorating 10 Downing Street.
All over Britain people owe their lives, and those of their loved ones, to the hard working NHS staff who repeatedly risk their own lives in the battle with Coronavirus. We showed our gratitude by clapping on the doorstep. Unlike Boris Johnson, we meant it. This is a government public relations disaster. People are appalled by the mean ingratitude of this government!
We owe our NHS Heroes a huge debt of gratitude for all their sacrifices.
Let’s show it with a substantial pay rise.
Ed: Commentator Jon Danzig has produced a cutting video which says the 1% is just ‘c**p’.