The truth about pay

10 ways in which the government is distorting the truth in the ongoing dispute over NHS pay

                                                                                                    Image: Nigel Goldsmith

As members across UNISON continue to take action on pay, Rishi Sunak and his ministers peddle the same lies and misinformation, to distract from their simple failure to do the right thing – to give public service workers decent pay. UNISON policy officer Guy Collis applies a scalpel to some of their worst fictions.

Myth: Increasing NHS pay will fuel inflation

Fact: Economic organisations such as the International Monetary Fund have found little evidence that raising pay will lead to the “wage price spiral” that conservative commentators fear. The real crisis is in pay and living standards, which not only directly affects health workers but, by reducing workers’ purchasing power, also damages local economies and the UK’s wider growth prospects.

Myth: The government does not have the money for bigger pay rises

Fact: Figures show that the government recorded a budget surplus of more than £5bn in the month of January 2023. In addition, government borrowing is currently £30bn less than predicted by the Office for Budget Responsibility. So the money is there; it just needs government to make health workers its priority.

Myth: All parts of the economy are having to accept cutbacks in the current crisis

Fact: Recent weeks have seen huge profits reported by banks and energy and oil companies. For example, British Gas owner Centrica reported record profits of £3.3bn, while BP and Shell combined to make an eye-watering £55bn in the past year. So while some firms are making money from the spike in energy costs, NHS staff and other workers are left to pay the price. In addition, bankers’ bonuses are once again set to run into billions, regardless of performance.

Myth: No government could afford to increase pay for NHS staff  

Fact: Rishi Sunak does not need to look far for a different approach to disputes over NHS pay. Governments in Wales and Scotland have shown that there is an alternative to the intransigence of the Westminster government. In both nations more money has been found for health staff as a way of attempting to bring disputes to an end.

Myth: The Pay Review Body decides what staff should be paid, so the government’s hands are tied

Fact: As it always does, the NHS Pay Review Body (PRB) made a recommendation to the government for an NHS pay award for 2022/23. Ministers can and have responded differently, in different years, to the PRB, on issues such as whether to implement recommendations in full or in part, or whether to delay or stage recommended pay awards. For example, in 2008-10 and again in 2018-2020 the government settled NHS pay outside of the PRB process.

Governments have also previously chosen to top up PRB recommendations when necessary. So, NHS pay remains the responsibility of the government, however much it might seek to hide behind the pay review body process.

Myth: Health staff have already received a generous pay rise for 2022/23

Fact: At the start of 2022 UNISON and the other health unions asked ministers to short-cut the lengthy PRB process and make a swift inflation-proof pay rise to all NHS staff, to be implemented from April that year. Instead, the government waited until late July to announce the award of £1,400 that the PRB had recommended in May – and health workers did not receive the increase until September. Not only had the government failed to match the unions’ pay claim, but what was offered at this late date was quickly swallowed up by rocketing energy bills.

Myth: The government has started meaningful pay talks with the trade unions

Fact: Health workers in five unions, including UNISON, are involved in industrial action over NHS pay. But last week it emerged that the government had invited the RCN for pay talks, but not the other unions. Choosing to speak to just one of the unions will not be sufficient to stop the strikes taking place and such divisive action risks making a bad situation even worse.

Myth: The unions are responsible for escalating the NHS pay dispute

Fact: Rather than entering early talks with the unions or engaging with all trade unions in the current dispute, the government has embarked on draconian new anti-strike legislation which it is seeking to rush through Parliament with minimal scrutiny. The Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill has been attacked by politicians from across the political spectrum, with the government’s own impact assessment admitting that it could make disruption worse by forcing staff to opt for other forms of industrial action, such as overtime bans. Regrettably, the government continues to favour provocation over negotiation.

Myth: The public does not support health staff taking action to improve their pay

Fact: Opinion polls continue to show resounding levels of support for striking health workers. This is in stark contrast to public attitudes to the government’s handling of the NHS: a recent report suggests that just 8% of people in England think the UK government has the right policies for the NHS.

Myth: NHS staff have been protected from the worst of austerity in the past decade

Fact: Recent analysis from the TUC shows that hundreds of thousands of NHS workers have lost at least “a year’s worth of salary” because their pay has not kept pace with inflation since 2010. In addition to deteriorating living standards, health workers have worked through the worst pandemic for a century, and the most recent NHS staff survey found that nearly half the workforce had felt unwell as a result of work-related stress at some point in the past year.

Little surprise, then, that the NHS in England is currently struggling with unprecedented staff vacancies of 133,000.

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26 thoughts on “The truth about pay

  1. Christine Marnell says:

    The 2022/23 pay award for all NHS staff was funded by NHS England resulting in the announcement on 07July 2022 that NHS England (merged with Health Education England and NHS Digital) would need to reduce it’s headcount by 30-40%. Why didn’t the unions challenge this when the award was made and what are the unions doing to make sure the government do not do the same again (not funding any awards resulting in job losses).

    1. Martin Cullen says:

      UNISON continues to call for pay rises to be funded by governments; it is wrong to make the NHS choose between raising staff pay or maintaining services.

  2. gerry bowdren says:

    our government can find money when it wants to [largely for its mates] – we deserve pay in recognition of the skilled and difficult work we do

  3. A says:

    do people forget that in last 10+ years of austerity and frozen pay for public sector workers, central government still gave their MPs an 11% year on year pay rise?

  4. Keith Painter says:

    Whilst I agree with what the NHS staff are doing to try to get a decent pay rise to match inflation, I am getting a bit sick of hearing all about the NHS. They aren’t the only ones that have been treated in this manner. All public services have seen their wages slowly lose touch with inflation over the past decade. I work for social services and have seen my wage reduced by around 20% since 2010. If I wasn’t near to retiring I would seek alternative employment outside of the public sector. I have worked for local government for 25 years and prior to that 15 years military service. I have dedicated myself to public services for a total of over 40 years and feel that I am expected to just put up and shut up.

  5. Sarah Goode says:

    Stop paying tory expenses and see what they have to say

  6. Mark says:

    Of course, no one mentioned that a minimum of 33% is immediately recovered by the govt in tax and NI.!

  7. Roger Weetch says:

    What about workers who retired during the Cameron pay freeze. Their final salary pensions have been reduced for life.

  8. Tim Vialls says:

    Agree with last comment regarding government can locate money when they choose. Am I being cynical in predicting that next year as we approach an election, the ‘magic money tree’ will appear to provide energy caps/financial support for heating bills.

  9. Will says:

    I would like to know how the gap can be closed between Scottish nhs rates and elsewhere. The gap is near £4000 for some staff and is unfair on staff in England on the same band. The pay gap is well above any increment / promotion to the next band and is in efffect a pay band jump for staff in Scotland

  10. Linda Tulip says:

    I’m not at all surprised at this Governments’ attitude toward pay rises in the public sector. Conservatives have always put the workers down. They themselves make sure they get a healthy pay rise, they always have.
    As a Social Care worker, my job involves working with health to support hospital discharges, and the cuts in local authority funding has made this more and more difficult getting providers for care packages. The staff shortage is everywhere! The decision to close the community hospitals has added to the chaos, and blocked even more beds! Years of underfunding both Health and Social Care have resulted in this mess. The sooner the Conservatives are out of Power the better, but all Political Parties must commit to put things right.

  11. Nigel Hill says:

    Now that the Welsh Government have settled for 22/23 there is now leave to enter new negotiations. Is this the only positive thing thats happened throughout the pay campaign.

    1. Martin Cullen says:

      UNISON has consistently highlighted the failure of the Westminster government to follow the lead of Wales and Scotland. In recent days the union has however succeeded in getting the Westminster government to invite UNISON and other unions to the pay talks that had previously only involved the RCN.

  12. James Pearce says:

    I work in social care rather than health but 100% support health workers in their campaign to receive fair pay. We must properly value our health workers if we want to retain a skilled and experienced work force in the NHS.

  13. Elaine says:

    They can find money to give away to other vountries but not our workforce. What about the millions sir thomas moore gave to the NHS after all his hard work walking with his feame ??????

  14. Susan says:

    I Never received £1.400 a month pay rise. neither did my colleagues. or was it over the year, in which case it got eaten by tax and insurance increase, so no actual pay rise.

  15. Roger Humphrey says:

    With you all the way. The Government needs to get back to basics. Yes we need wealth to promote businesses to create jobs. But jobs that pays money “ordinary working people” can pay their rent/mortgage. When you see what “big” companies profits are then its just out of control. Money rules ( Look what its doing to football. been involved in the game all my life but again money rules. £250.000 a WEEK for players ridiculous). Same with ordinary jobs. People being paid £250.000 a year when Dustman other ordinary workers, much needed in ALL communitys paid lot less 20/25 grand a year if lucky. The Service has gone down(Could talk all day about that) and costs to all citizens gone up. Something NEEDS to be done otherwise there going to be real trouble in this Country. Ive been very lucky but I feel for my children and garandchildren

  16. Why doesn’t the MPs take a pay cut and all bonus payments that are due to them be put towards the NHS pay for staff working in the NHS.

    We never hear of MPs taking a pay cut or not having a pay rise. This NEVER happens.

  17. Beth says:

    I find it very backseat driving the whole Government anyway.
    The Health secretary has never worked in a health sector, yet he is PAID so much more then Health Care Professionals!?
    Health Care, clinical and none clinical has done far more for the general public than the he has.
    oh and to say its ‘disappointing’ regarding the strikes.. oh well as a country we are ‘deeply disappointed’ back the lack of empathy, sense of the real world the government has!
    Let’s see if ANY of the government can handle one day of working in the NHS. they need to have some work experience in our world, before they judge on there big figure salary’s!
    I was SHOCKED to see that my partner, who’s a GP trainee, is only on 9 pounds an hour more than me basic. Makes you feel sick doesnt it. a train driver is on more money than they are and THEY have a had an offer of 9%

    The UK has become a disapointing country

  18. Andra says:

    I believe that the tax bands are now not fit for purpose. I’m a RMN and encouraged to do overtime regularly and support vaccinations etc which I have done when called on , however now I am going to be over the normal tax banding because of pay rise, overtime and back pay , which has substantially been taxed.
    I think the banding should be increased , not by £300 as the Scottish government has done but by £3000 at the least.
    Short staffed appears to warrant overtime as does sickness , this in turn costs more in tax, what a place to work …. Burnout hello !

  19. J says:

    This government doesn’t care about it’s workers. Derisory pay awards whilst ensuring they themselves get nice healthy pay increases. Erosion of pensions and raising of age at which we can draw it, whilst MP’s can draw their (big) pensions way earlier than anyone else . False claims of increased staff entering the health professions, whilst keeping quiet about the numbers leaving due to stress, ill health etc.
    Why can the Government afford to offer Teachers 5% for next year, making starting salary £30k, but NHS staff only 3,5% – our pay already lags behind other comparable public sector pay, and this will just continue to increase the gap.
    AfC was supposed to ensure that skills and knowledge at work were rewarded fairly and equitably across the board – with Scotland and Wales offering higher pay deals AfC becomes irrelevant. And don’t forget, pensions were reduced to compensate for the ‘alleged’ higher, fairer wage bill AfC brought with it.
    The Government is sparing with the truth when trying to gain public support against the current strikes – it’s disgraceful and needs to be challenged. And why isn’t UNISON invited to the table, not all health workers are nurses, and not all nurses are RCN union members. We need to fight, and fight hard – a work to rule would soon change things. With nearly 30% of nursing shifts alone in my trust being filled by overtime, or should I say additional shifts as overtime is a thing of the past, the NHS would soon be pushed to the brink and Government would have to act fast.

  20. Andrew McAllister says:

    Bleeding disgrace I work with hazardous waste run the risk of contracting Hepatitis A,B. Or C
    or worse rat’s running round the size of cats. Could get more money stacking shelves in a supermarket. Sack all our MLA’s at Stormont and give their salaries and expenses to NHS staff pay increases. End temporary and agency contracts and actually employ people who have been doing the job for more than two years instead of enriching employment agencies that have no experience or knowledge, expertise or care for NHS workers. Get professional business managers in to run the service so that one part of the workforce knows what they’re doing and how that works with the other sectors

  21. John Kingston says:

    As a retiree I am looking forward to an inflation matching increase in both my NHS and state pensions. I was lucky enough to retire just as austerity started so missed the pay freeze. I am economically inactive and contributing little to society unlike our overworked and underpaid public sector workers. The Tory government couldn’t be doing this because they think that they are more likely to get older peoples votes than those of NHS workers, teachers, rail workers, etc. Or could they?

  22. PAUL TATTON says:

    I totally agree that NHS staff deserve a decent pay rise as they work incredibly hard, at what about us workers working in the Social Care sector, we also provide a valuable service and look after the well being of the people we support, assisting with things such as personal care, administering medication, supporting with medical appointments and money etc all very responsible tasks and on or just above minimal wage. Let’s not forget the NHS is also struggling because of the crisis in social care. We can’t remove our labour either which is another reason why we get overlooked.

    1. Martin Cullen says:

      Agreed! UNISON is working hard on behalf of our members in social care to push for pay rises and, beyond this, for a total overhaul of the system that would see care workers given the proper reward and respect they deserve for carrying out work that should never be paid at minimum wage rates.

  23. Malcolm Nicholson says:

    Totally agree. Public sector workers in the NHS and local government deserve pay rises and the Government can afford it. An expert commentator on the radio pointed out that pay rises in these sectors won’t add to inflation because our services are not charged for so they don’t increase prices. But all the government seem to care about is making the rich even richer.

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