Unions have dismissed a recommended 1% pay increase for NHS staff as ‘pitiful and bitterly disappointing’ and ‘the worst kind of insult’.
In its written evidence to the NHS Pay Review Body, the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) recommended a headline pay award of 1% for the 2021/22 pay round. It said that anything higher would “require re-prioritisation”.
“Covid-19 has placed a huge strain on both public and NHS finances,” it said. “The economic outlook for 2021/22 remains uncertain and pay awards must be both fair and affordable.”
Although the Pay Review Body makes recommendations to the government, ultimately it is ministers who decide pay levels for the NHS.
The Pay Review Body is expected to publish its report by May, which is likely to mean that NHS staff would not receive a pay increase until July at the earliest.
The Royal College of Nursing’s (RCN) chief executive and general secretary, Dame Donna Kinnair, said the government could “expect a backlash from a million NHS workers”.
“This is pitiful and bitterly disappointing,” she said. “The government is dangerously out of touch with nursing staff, NHS workers and the public.
“Taxpayers are supportive of a significant and fair pay rise for NHS workers – this year of all years.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has also criticised the proposed pay deal, which would amount to a pay cut in real terms.
He tweeted: “You can’t rebuild a country by cutting nurses’ pay. Give our Covid heroes a pay rise.”
You can’t rebuild a country by cutting nurses’ pay.
Give our Covid heroes a pay rise. pic.twitter.com/sdBDwg1fwh
— Keir Starmer (@Keir_Starmer) March 4, 2021
The RCN’s Fair Pay For Nursing campaign has called for a 12.5% pay increase for all nursing staff covered by ‘Agenda for Change’ contract terms, as part of a one-year deal that applies equally to all bands.
Kinnair said: “If the Pay Review Body accepts the government view, a pay award as poor as this would amount to only an extra £3.50 per week take-home pay for an experienced nurse. Nobody would think that is fair in the middle of a pandemic and it will do nothing to prevent the exodus from nursing.
“Nursing staff would feel they are being punished and made to pay for the cost of the pandemic. It is a political decision to underfund and undervalue nursing staff.”
A 1% pay rise is the “worst kind of insult the government could give health workers”, said Sara Gorton, head of health at union Unison.
“Staff will think it’s some kind of joke,” said Gorton. “Ministers should hang their heads in shame, go back to the drawing board and come up with the kind of pay rise that matches the astounding efforts staff have gone to in the past year.
“The entire NHS workforce will now expect to see the pay review body come up with a much more sensible and realistic recommendation than this laughable suggestion from the government.”
Unison has urged the government to award all NHS staff a pay rise of at least £2,000.
The 1% proposal was defended by business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng on BBC One’s Question Time last night. He said: “No one is doubting the NHS has been absolutely first class in this whole pandemic. What I am suggesting is that the whole economy has been under huge pressure.
“When I look at people in the hospitality sector, in aviation, in retail, many of them are very, very worried they won’t even be in a job in two or three months.”
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, mental health and patient safety minister Nadine Dorries noted that many other public sector workers were facing a pay freeze, adding that 1% was all the government could afford.