Low-paid NHS staff forced to use food banks as they face huge real wage hit

Nurses who face a shocking real terms pay cut this year of £1,600, are being forced to use food banks to feed families.

UK was not fully prepared for the Covid pandemic

If the expected 3% pay offer, which is below inflation, goes ahead for NHS staff in England despite the soaring cost of living, nurses and other frontline NHS employees will face “huge real terms pay cuts,” union leaders warn.

The TUC cautions nurses will bear the brunt of the below inflation pay offer. In 2021, following a huge public backlash, nurses received a 3% pay deal, up from the 1% initially offered by the government.

Fears of recession grow

The warnings come as fears of a recession grow, as the UK economy shrinks to 0.3% in April amid spiralling living costs. Official figures showed gross domestic product (GDP) – a measure of the total goods and services produces – fell 0.3% in April, sparking fears the UK is heading closer to a recession.

With inflation soaring to 9% this year, the highest level since the early 1980s, and with the Bank of England expecting inflation to peak at 10% later this year, pushing through a similar 3% settlement for NHS staff this year would mean they would suffer from a £1,600 cut in the inflation-adjusted value of their pay, says the TUC.

Commenting on the real terms pay cut, Frances O’Grady, TUC general secretary, said: “Our brilliant key workers in the NHS helped get Britain through the pandemic. But many are now at breaking point – struggling to afford the basics and put food on the table.

“Any offer that falls below the cost of living will be a hammer blow to staff morale – especially as staff shortages continue to cripple vital services – and many NHS workers may choose to vote with their feet.”

Johnson U-turns on high-wage economy promises

On June 9 during a speech in Blackpool, Boris Johnson said that increasing pay to match rising living costs would risk a “wage price spiral.”

The same week Johnson U-turned on promises to create a high-wage economy and unions warn of NHS staff facing a real term wage hit of £1,600 this year, reports emerged of the impact the cost-of-living crisis is having on low-paid nursing in Britain.

Some in the profession spoke of being forced to queue at food banks after finishing their shifts.

In a bid to help employees with the soaring cost of living, at least six NHS trusts have launched food banks or food voucher schemes for staff.

During a speech at the Royal College of Nursing’s annual congress in Glasgow on June 9, former prime minister Gordon Brown called for an “end to food bank Britain.”

“Thousands of nurses report that, because of the cost-of-living crisis, they are skipping meals so they can feed their children,” he said.

“I want an end to food-bank Britain by an end to poverty and low-pay Britain.

“This is not a party political issue but a humanitarian issue. A matter of common decency.

“The best way we can reward the nurses of Britain for what they did for us during the pandemic is ensuring decent wages and working conditions. Our nurses cared for us – it’s time for us to care for them,” Brown continued.

Some NHS staff cannot afford to travel to work

Reports have also surfaced that low-paid health and care workers are calling in sick because they cannot afford to put fuel in their cars to travel to work.

As Johnson cautioned against a “wage-price spiral”, the cost of filling a tank reached a record £100.

Christina McAnea, general secretary of Unison, said that faced by real-terms pay cuts as the cost of living crisis continues to bite, some Unison members were likely to strike in the coming months,

“[Petrol price rises are] having a big impact on people with jobs that mean they have to travel. So community health workers, health visitors, care workers, social workers … are saying they just cannot afford to do their jobs any more.

“We’re actually hearing of people who would rather phone in sick because they don’t have the money to fill up their cars and do their jobs. And more and more people are leaving public services, even in local government. There’s huge vacancies across local government,” McAnea added.

Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

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