NHS pay rise of a measly 1% is too little to reward the health heroes of our nation

We have stood on the streets and applauded our front line NHS staff. We have wondered at their resilience in the biggest health crisis of our lifetimes. We have sympathised with them when they have fallen ill and with their families when they have died.

The reward health service workers will get for their efforts is a measly 1% pay rise. Ministers seem not to recognise that those who have worked themselves into exhaustion, taken on extra shifts, faced danger every working day need a boost. With tax allowances frozen, the lowest paid staff and frontline nurses should at least get the 2.1% pay rise they were promised.

In a snap opinion poll in today’s Observer, even 58% of Conservative respondents said they thought the rise was too low, rising to 72% for the full spectrum of voters. Chris Curtis of Opinium Research gives the details on Twitter, including that improving salaries for NHS staff is second only to pumping more money into the NHS and social care system for voters.

I have watched Covid-19 from the frontline. Health workers get sick, sometimes with Covid. Some have had to step back from work at times to look after their children or family members who are isolated or unwell.

There was so much unknown at the beginning. The rate at which the disease spread. In hospitals, there was the lack of PPE. Many medical staff fell ill. Some died.

It has got a lot better. The vaccination programme is steaming ahead and infection rates are falling. But we still have uncertainty over the emergent of new variants of Covid-19.

Health service staff have been under huge pressure for years. But anyone who has been recently treated by GPs and hospital staff knows that they are wonderful people doing their best in the most difficult of circumstances.

NHS staff are so committed they have worked flat out. They have volunteered for extra shifts and been called into to plug gaps in staffing. They have often gone off shift with barely enough time to eat and sleep before returning for the next shift.

The vaccination programme got under a slow start in some areas, including here in south west Shropshire. But the catch up has been brilliant. So much effort by so many professionals and volunteers has led to close to 100 per cent of people over 65 being vaccinated.

Nationally, NHS staff deserve the pay rise they were promised. That was 2.1%. They really deserve more.

Of course, we are short of money as a nation. But the experience of the last year has shown that without the absolute dedication of NHS staff working beyond the call of duty, we cannot tackle an epidemic or any other public health emergency.

That’s why NHS staff deserve the pay rise the government is cruelly denying.

* Tracey Huffer is a Shropshire Lib Dem Councillor. She is also a hill farmer and works in a GP practice as a health assistant.

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  • Paul Barker 7th Mar '21 - 12:25pm

    We should point out that with Inflation currently approaching 1%, this is not a rise at all.

    I hope lots of people will join the “Slow Hand Clap” at 8 PM next Thursday.

  • Joseph Bourke 7th Mar '21 - 1:39pm

    The proposed NHS pay rise, the public sector pay freeze and the freezing of tax allowances would not be so contentious if it what not for inflation built into the system. The 2% inflation target that the Bank of England is mandated to target is a somewhat arbitrary figure that has eroded the value of wages benefit payments for many years now. Economists think mild inflation helps the economy to grow, but that may no longer be the case.
    Technology gives us greater and greater access to products and services with less cost. For example, imagine how many expenditures your smart phone replaces. No more paid long distance calls, buying cameras, or buying a CD player with CDs, and it allows for fewer trips to your physical bank (via mobile banking).
    This article by a tech entrepreneur argues that we should embrace deflation https://medium.com/@JeffBooth/why-we-need-to-embrace-deflation-9a4b94d7d690
    The bogeymen is the debt delfation of the inter-war years. Is this still the case today? Back in 1930, Keynes predicted that the working week would be drastically cut, to perhaps 15 hours a week, with people choosing to have far more leisure as their material needs were satisfied. Within a hundred years, Keynes predicted, living standards in “progressive countries” would be between four and eight times higher and this would leave people far more time to enjoy the good things in life.
    Keynes had been working on Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren before the Wall Street Crash of 1929 but finally published it a year into the crisis. Given that the world was part of the way through a downturn unparalleled before or since, it was a brave call to say it was “only a temporary period of adjustment”, but as it turned out absolutely correct. Living standards in developed western economies have seen rapid growth; by 2030 it is likely that they will have risen at least eightfold.
    We need to be asking ourselves why are nurses and the rest of us still having to work 40+ hours a week to pay rent or a mortgage when living standards have improved so dramatically?

  • I have heard it said NHS staff were promised 2.1%.
    Does anyone have a link to this?

  • Joseph Bourke 7th Mar '21 - 2:55pm


    This 2.1% pay rise assumption is published on page 37 of the NHS’ Long Term Plan Implementation Framework https://www.longtermplan.nhs.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/long-term-plan-implementation-framework-v1.pdf published in June 2019.

  • John Marriott 7th Mar '21 - 4:32pm

    Why not await the findings of the INDEPENDENT pay review before getting so excited? When this happens methinks a u turn might follow.

  • Graham Jeffs 7th Mar '21 - 4:52pm

    At least they have jobs! Spare a thought for those who haven’t.

  • Steve Trevethan 7th Mar '21 - 5:31pm

    Might it help to see the currently proposed pay arrangement as the start of an econo-political strategy to further concentrate wealth and power for the benefit of the few?

    As the article below shows, this is a voluntary not “forced” policy decision by H.M.G. H.M.G. has the money to pay the nurses, and the like, decently but chooses not to do so for its own covert purposes. As it has already done, H.M.G. can create as much money as it needs. Provided that this money creation does not result in excessive inflation and is used for the protection and betterment of society, it is good practice.

    In this case H.M.G. is choosing to pay nurses according to what it sees as the market price and not according to the “proven social worth” price. This perceived market price is based upon the distortion of the market through misapplied governmental power.

    H.M.G. is willing to harm the essential medical infrastructure, which takes years to gain the necessary knowledge and experience, for its own benefit and those of its donors.

    What do you think the “free market” pay of nurses might have been at the height of the pandemic without government controls?

    The market needs “freedoms from”, such as the powerful gaining excessive financial benefits to the cost of the the rest of us as well as “freedoms of/to”. In short, “the market” needs optimal regulation so that it serves society as a whole and does not allow the finance industry to exploit it.

    If the current H.M.G. succeeds in this dishonestly low pay proposal, based upon an “economics” misunderstanding and/or lie, the socio-economic prospects for the majority will become increasingly bleak.

    Might our party do something about the falsity of the premises upon which this bullying pay move is made and work for a transparent, equitable and effective economy in a realistic and caring society?


  • At risk of courting controversy but a lot of people have lost their jobs and aren’t in a position to be asking for a pay rise. There is no money available but anything that is made available should go in to helping the unemployed, rebuilding the economy and the social impact of the policies of the last 12 months

  • Ultimately in a pay negotiation warm words about valuing staff won’t cut it. Cash has to be put on the table. The Royal College of Nursing is calling for a 12.5% rise after 10 years of pay freezes/below inflation with pay for some nurses having fallen in real terms since 2010.
    After adjusting for inflation, the real-terms salary for someone at the top of band 5 actually fell by 9% between 2010/11 and 2019/20 https://fullfact.org/online/september-2020-nhs-pay/
    HMG does not have the money on hand to pay the rise asked for. The BofE can create as much money at it needs, but the government cannot spend it into the economy without consequences.
    Only a relatively small part of the QE has been spent on produced goods and services, mostly essential goods like food and utilities. The majority goes towards existing mortgage and other debt repayments and rent. A big part has also accumulated as personal savings.
    This money creation is emergency relief to keep businesses and jobs intact because the long-term costs of not doing so would be greater, just as letting Hitler occupy the British Isles would have been.
    The cost of maintaining the NHS in the longer-term has to be dealt with as it was after the war – from general taxation. Money can be created and spent to buy up idle resources in the economy e.g. via a job guarantee program where spare labour can be deployed for productive work. Money creation does not, however, solve the problem of how to meet the justified demands of public service workers and those in the private care sector.
    Putting cash on the table means the British public paying higher taxes, as the economy recovers and employment levels start to return to pre-pandemic levels. That is how we show the value we place on nurses and other vital public services and maintain their viability for future generations.

  • Tracey Huffer deserves our respect and admiration. I just wish Ed Davey would take note of what she says. Not a peep from him on this.

    Meanwhile, the Scottish Government has more than followed John Marriott’s advice :

    “In recognition of an exceptional year of significant pressure staff will receive an interim pay increase of 1% which will be backdated to 1 December, 2020, ahead of the final 2021-22 pay settlement. This follows the £500 thank you payment announced earlier ahead of full pay negotiations being concluded in the coming months.

  • Helen Dudden 8th Mar '21 - 8:20am

    There was money available for cronyism.

  • Steve Trevethan 8th Mar '21 - 10:40am

    Might the view that H.M.G.’s handling of nurses+ pay is based upon cynical politics and not upon straightforward economics be validated by comparison with other public service employees?

    How does the reported 13% pay rise for H.M.R.C. staff compare with the 1% for nurses+?

    Might it be the case that “an ulterior motive of the government’s 1% pay rise for N.H.S. staff and 13% for H.M.R.C. staff is to play the politics of divide and conquer so that the N.H.S. will be easier to privatise”?

    How can the “Deficit ” be used selectively without its being called into question?


  • Graham Jeffs 7th Mar ’21 – 4:52pm…..At least they have jobs! Spare a thought for those who haven’t……

    That reminds me of a slight twist on an old adage….The government puts ten pound notes on a table. they allocate nine pounds to cronies and then tell the unemployed that the nurses are trying to take their money..

    Sadly, in real life, most of those who ‘clapped for carers’ will still vote Tory..

  • It’s just been announced that the Scottish government (described by Sir Edward Davey as “hapless”) has come forward with a better NHS pay deal than the hapless Boris is willing to do for England :

    “The Scottish Government has secured a budget deal with the Scottish Greens ahead of the final vote on the bill tomorrow. Finance secretary Kate Forbes also confirmed she was still in discussion with the Liberal Democrats, who may also support the bill at stage three.

    The agreement with the Greens will see NHS and other public sector staff given a pay rise of two per cent (up from one per cent) if they earn under £40,000. Public sector workers on the lowest salaries (under £25,000) will also receive an £800 increase”.

  • David Raw,

    a budget deal may have been agreed at Holyrood. Whether that settles the matter raised by the NHS Grassroots Fair Pay Campaign which is fighting for a 15 per cent pay rise remains to be seen https://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/scots-nurses-sick-living-poverty-23625728
    The problem for all workers is pointed out by Unison in their report – Bargaining on Annual Pay Rises https://www.unison.org.uk/content/uploads/2021/01/Pay-claims-0121.pdf
    “..in reality most public sector staff have seen their real terms pay take a hit since 2010… the cost of living (inflation) in the last decade rose by 35.6%”. It noted that:

    “The average public sector worker has seen an even steeper 14% decline in the value of their wages. For the public sector worker who has not benefited from any incremental progression in their pay, the cut has been 18%, leaving their 2020 wage over £6,800 down on the value of their earnings in 2009 and the accumulated loss from their wage failing to keep pace with inflation each year standing at over £53,307.”
    And let’s not forget the urgent need to maintain the barely adequate £20 Universal Credit uplift. Nor must we ignore the millions of legacy benefit claimants who haven’t got any increase at all. The NIESR report showed the number of households living in destitution (that’s real poverty not relative poverty/inequality) more than doubled during the Pandemic to 421,500 from 197,400.
    These outcomes are the consequence of long-term structural weaknesses that have been playing out since the financial crash of 2008, exacerbated by Brexit and the pandemic, that can only be addressed by wholesale root and branch reforms of the tax and benefit system.

  • Funny how no one has picked up the fact that it was the Government itself who linked the pay increase to CoViD19 performance.
    Personally, given health seems to have become a new front line/battlefield, I would press for an exceptional CoViD19 “tour of duty” payment and make such one-off payments normal and so decouple compensation for exceptional circumstances from normal performance.
    Having done this, a 1% increase isn’t so bad.

  • If Rishi finds a few quid for the NHS down the back of his sofa he should put it aside for the tsunami of mental illness which is coming over the horizon. Walking over the Itchen Bridge you will see the signs imploring those tempted to leap into the murky depths below to seek help. In the evening the lights of the patrol boats are visible, searching the river for the poor souls, hopefully alive, often not. For those in doubt, could I refer you to the piece in the FT, 26/2/21 by William Wallis. Public spending is always about priorities.

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