Last summer, a group of nurses kicked off the grassroots campaign ‘NHS Workers Say No!‘ to fight for a restorative pay increase for all NHS workers.
The campaign was born at a time when we found ourselves completely exhausted, with morale on the floor amidst the fight against a global pandemic, with both ourselves and our colleagues becoming sick. It also came at a time when we were hitting the unbelievable figure of 100,000 vacancies in the NHS.
We were dealt yet another blow when we were left out of the public sector pay increase. This felt like the tipping point, and we decided to stand up and take action. It was time to encourage our colleagues to fight for what we were owed, to fight for conditions that would keep our patients safe, and to make a lot of noise in our trade unions to make clear that we would no longer accept being mistreated by this government.
A network of NHS activists was built across the UK, and we agreed that our pay demand would be 15%. This was the origin of the #NHSPay15 hashtag which has become so prominent in recent weeks. Unite and GMB unions came onboard and supported our movement, and they are both now campaigning for a 15% pay increase for all NHS workers. It was a landmark moment.
Under Tory austerity NHS workers have faced a decade of cuts to our wages, with an average nurse losing 20% of the real value of their salary. Our wages have simply not kept pace with the rate of inflation. We have found ourselves in the alarming situation that one-in-three nurses are considering quitting their jobs. In reality, this is no surprise when our pay has been cut by a fifth.
It is just not right that the workers who were lauded as ‘heroes’ early in this pandemic are facing such miserable working conditions: as Tribune has written before, nurses are skipping meals, forced to work overtime to cover bills, falling into debt and taking on second jobs simply to make ends meet.
The past year has exposed the level of fragility in our frontline services, and made clear what happens when there is little-to-no investment in workers and the services they provide. In the NHS, we entered the pandemic with a demoralised workforce, a huge staff deficit and waiting lists at a record high. We now find ourselves in a very dangerous position: waiting lists soaring, unable to recruit and around 90% of nurses reporting their jobs are negatively impacting their mental health.
Of course, our campaign is primarily targeted at those most responsible: the Tory government. These are the people who have left us chronically understaffed and with unsafe working conditions. They are the people who clapped on their doorsteps and designed a special badge saying ‘care,’ but then went on to recommend an insulting 1% pay increase. For many NHS workers, this increase will not even cover parking costs for a single shift.
I have worked within child and adolescent mental health services for the past decade. The decimation of our services has been vicious and it appears that there is no investment in sight, despite the Tory government claiming to acknowledge what a critical time we are facing in supporting our young people.
The patients that I care for, and their families, are living with increased levels of deprivation. Their need for our services is increasing all the time. And yet pre-pandemic, we were faced with people waiting up to two years for psychological therapies on the NHS. The question of what these figures will look like over the next twelve months is truly terrifying.
The government clearly has no intention of supporting us. They know the situation we find ourselves in, they have been told repeatedly and the past year has made it crystal clear. Yet they continue to refuse to invest in decent pay and conditions which might keep us and our patients safe.
But while our target remains the government, the lack of commitment from the opposition in demanding pay restoration for NHS workers is not what we would expect from the party which formed the NHS and which prides itself on representing workers. Keir Starmer has publicly criticised the 1% pay offer by the Tories as insulting and pitiful – but then failed to commit to any figure higher than 2.1%. This simply leaves us vulnerable to further cuts.
There is overwhelming public support for NHS workers to receive a pay increase of above 10% and NHS Workers Say No! are calling on Keir Starmer to take action and apply pressure to the government to safeguard the future of our NHS.
Without the NHS workforce being offered the pay increase we deserve, the health service will be unable to recruit and there will be no way to retain skilled and experienced staff. And without the staff, there is no NHS. Studies predict that without a significant shift, the NHS will be facing 250,000 vacancies by 2030 – this is guaranteed to result in further privatisation by the back door.
With the support of a range of civil society figures, we are launching the #StepUpStarmer campaign with an open letter to Keir Starmer demanding that he offers his support to a 15% pay increase for all NHS workers.
Labour has put the row over nurses pay at the centre of its local election campaign and stated that ‘a vote for Labour is a vote for NHS staff.’ Now it’s time to prove it. Step up, Keir Starmer.