The Independent View: Liberal Democrats back industrial action by midwives

Midwives in England are in dispute right now with their employers after the rejection of a 1 per cent pay rise, recommended by the independent NHS pay review body. It is the first time in our 133-year history that the Royal College of Midwives has balloted members over whether or not to take industrial action.

Eighty per cent of the British public would support giving NHS staff the 1 per cent rise, according to a ComRes poll we commissioned to gauge public opinion. Opposition stands at just 9 per cent (11 per cent answered “don’t know”). Despite this, the recommendation has so far been rejected by NHS employers. Full details of the poll’s findings, including data tables, are available at the ComRes website.

Regardless of how one divides up those who took part in the poll – by gender, age group, whether they work in the public or private sector, which party they support, or which region they live in – there is an absolute majority in favour of the recommended 1 per cent pay rise for NHS staff being implemented.

Looking through the data tables detailing the breakdown of support, Liberal Democrat supporters were more likely than the national average to support the 1% pay rise. 89 per cent of those who intend to vote Liberal Democrat supported the idea, against 7 per cent who opposed it (4 per cent answered “don’t know”).

On the question of industrial action by midwives, 63 per cent would support it, provided arrangements are made to ensure that any pregnant woman in need of immediate care during the period of the industrial action received care as usual. This is against 26 per cent who would oppose it (11 per cent answered “don’t know”). Amongst those who intend to vote Lib Dem the level of support was 66 per cent, to 27 per cent who would oppose industrial action – more than two to one – with 7 per cent saying they “don’t know”.

Why are NHS midwives in England considering industrial action? Their pay was frozen in 2011 and 2012. In 2013 pay rose 1 per cent. This year, following the rejection of the independent pay review body’s recommendation, only staff at the top of their pay scale will get 1 per cent, with pay scales frozen for everyone else. And even that rise is only temporary. In 2016 it will be cancelled, with pay dropping back down.

These years of pay restraint have had a big impact on the household budgets of midwives. If the pay of a typical midwife had simply risen in line with inflation since 2010, they would today earn over £4,000 more per year than they actually do. That’s the equivalent of three years’ worth of energy bills. Midwives are seriously worse off than they were, and now face some very tough decisions about whether there is anything left to cut from their household budget.

I understand that talk of industrial action may sound alarming, but we are not talking about a 1970s-style walkout. If midwives vote for industrial action, pregnant women needing immediate care will get it. No ifs, no buts. A woman in labour, for example, would not notice any change at all. Safety comes first, always.

I hope that like the overwhelming majority of Liberal Democrat supporters who took part in the poll, you will also side with midwives in this dispute.

The Independent View‘ is a slot on Lib Dem Voice which allows those from beyond the party to contribute to debates we believe are of interest to LDV’s readers. Please email [email protected] if you are interested in contributing.

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18 Comments

  • David Evans 8th Sep '14 - 12:03pm

    Joe, How about d) Increase the rate of tax on high earners? or e) really tighten up on tax dodgers, particularly those multinationals that move their income offshore to avoid tax?

  • A Social Liberal 8th Sep '14 - 2:15pm

    Joe
    nice Tory rhetoric you are spinning there. It is funny how we managed to have our manefesto costed before the last election – including reducing the deficit without such draconian measures as we have had to endure under the coalition – but suddenly, once in bed with the Nasty Party we find ourselves going along with massive cuts in public spending. One has to ask oneself, were they brought in because they were needed or because they were demanded by the Conservatives?

  • Joe Otten
    You ask where the money should come from. Have you seen the tee shirt with the slogan NHS NOT TRIDENT.
    Nuff said?

  • David Evans 8th Sep '14 - 3:19pm

    Joe, I wasn’t posting to start a massive discussion, but merely pointing out that there are many more options than the three you promoted as a complete set.

  • A Social Liberal 8th Sep '14 - 7:39pm

    Joe
    are you talking about the insult to the Tories, because they deserve every negative term anyone throws at them. It is often said by our MPs that Lib Dems stopped them from implementing truly horrendous policies – if that is so then do they not deserve their epithets?

    If you refer to my descriptor of your first post, then please point out the phrases which have not been spouted by Tories up and down the country over the last four years. By all means show me which part of your post reflects what we said (and remember, it was fully costed by a respected organisation) in our 2010 manefesto.

    Now to the points you raised.
    *”arguably the nastiness of Labour”. Whilst it is not your first point I feel that this has to be put to bed first. The financial debacle was not down to Labour (although they were culpable of not listening to Vince on regulating), it was down to the banks. British banks, US banks, European banks, Icelandic banks. It was a silly coalition argument to lay it at the foot of the then government when three quarters of the coalition was calling for LESS regulation before the crash. So come on Joe, stop trying to pull those sparse strands of wool over our eyes.

    *Identifying that pot of money. Vince, before and after the election told us that the Tories were too eager in the way they were cutting. He even said so very recently. If the coalition had followed Lib Dem policy with regards austerity then we would not have had to pay so many people unemployment benefit. There’s a saving for a start. We may well have maintained the 2 per cent rise in GDP that we inherited which would have similarly helped fill the pot.

    *Cross party agreement on further savings? When???

    And now a question or two for your good self. Where in our manifesto did we say we would drop the top rate of tax? When did we decide to take a laissez faire attitude on offshoring multinationals. When did we turn into a light blue party – before or after the election?

  • A Social Liberal 8th Sep '14 - 7:46pm

    As a general point I would like to refer to our last manifesto where we spoke of fair taxes. This is what we said we would do. This is how we would pay for our spending.
    * Tax-free earning threshold to rise to £10,000, paid for by a “mansion tax” of 1% on properties worth over £2m applicable to value of property over that figure

    * Annual savings totalling £15bn, including scrapping ID cards and not renewing the Trident nuclear deterrent
    Cap pay rises at £400 for all public sector workers, initially for two years

    * Banking levy to pay for the state support they have received. Break up banks into retail and investment sections

    * Base business rates on site values rather than rental values. Small company relief to be automatic

    * Flights to be taxed per-plane, rather than according to the number of passengers they carry

    * Set up UK Infrastructure Bank offering stable long-term returns on savings and private finance. Encourage regional stock exchanges to help business access equity. Turn Northern Rock into a building society

    * Minimum wage set at same level for all workers aged over 16 – except apprentices

    * Replace council tax with local income tax [England only]

  • “You ask where the money should come from.”

    Well there is a vanity project the Coalition will be attempting to kick off shortly, even though it’s business case and economic justification have been thoroughly shot to bits. A quick banging of politicians heads together to knock some sense into people would immediately remove the need to spend circa £2bn pa and hence free up tax revenues that would have to go on loan repayments for use on something more constructive and socially beneficial to the English regions…

  • Social, you accused me of Tory rhetoric, I assume that was intended as an insult.

    We have a fairer tax system, despite being in coalition with the Tories, but that is not as hard as it sounds because Labour did nothing to make it fairer. We dropped the policy of a 50p top rate in about 2008 because it was obviously just symbolic, whereas much more can be raised from the rich by capping reliefs, as we have done.

    Defend Labour’s record on the crash if you like, it is not really important to my point, which is all about Labour’s attempts to blame the coalition for the crash. Nasty Tories and Lib Dems inherited a £160bn black hole in the nation’s finances. That wouldn’t happen with nice Labour. That’s more or less the main thing they’ve been saying for the last 4 years.

    By all means second-guess the history and say that if a slightly different trajectory had been followed (as 3 parties proposed before the election) with fiscal policy we would have had slightly different GDP figures. Who knows. Just don’t pretend there was room to have vastly more expansionary fiscal policy, or that it would have been a one-way bet if there were room for it.

  • Joe Otten
    You only have yourself to blame if people observe that your comments show a remarkable similarity to those of conservatives.
    That is not intended as an insult.
    It is an honest assessment of the things that you have included in your OpEds and comments in LDV.
    In another thread you said that the Green Party is “Hard Left”. I have more than once asked you to clarify what you mean and I am still waiting for your repy. I would expect that sort of statement from some Tory climate change denier but not from a Liberal.
    Your obvious dislike of trade unions, is also something I woud expect from Saloon Bar Tories.
    None of the above is the language of insult but an honest appraisal of the things that you yourself have said here in LDV.

    I am aware that in the recent council elections the Conservatives gave Liberal Democrats a clear run. Maybe this gives you a different perspective?

  • Julian Tisi 9th Sep '14 - 1:44pm

    @ A social liberal
    “The financial debacle was not down to Labour (although they were culpable of not listening to Vince on regulating), it was down to the banks”
    Oh yes it was down to Labour. Not only for not regulating the banks but principally because they borrowed and spent more money than they were able to raise in taxes. That’s ultimately what the financial crisis was about – people, companies and even whole countires borrowing and spending more than they could afford. Yes the banks were to blame – they did the lending – but their blame was peripheral. Sadly it’s become a mantra of the left that is was ALL the fault of banks and bankers. But the banks are just a convenient scapegoat to deflect attention from economic reality – that austerity is necessary and that all parties would have had to pursue it.

  • A Social Liberal 9th Sep '14 - 1:47pm

    Thanks for the reply Joe – I notice you managed not to answer my questions. Just for you, I’ll repeat them

    And now a question or two for your good self. Where in our manifesto did we say we would drop the top rate of tax? When did we decide to take a laissez faire attitude on offshoring multinationals. When did we turn into a light blue party – before or after the election?

    Although, given that it is rhetorical, I’ll not press you on the last question.

  • Julian Tisi 9th Sep '14 - 1:48pm

    In answer to the original post however, I’m actually (you may be surprised to hear) on the side of the midwives.

    The public sector has endured a few years of small or no pay increases. Sadly necessary given where we are but we should as a country be looking for every opportunity to increase their pay as soon as we can. In the meantime the independent NHS pay review body has recommended 1% and on that basis that ought to be respected. I find quite distasteful the suggestion that this should only be given at the top of the payscale.

    On that basis, I would support the midwives.

  • A Social Liberal 9th Sep '14 - 1:48pm

    Julian said

    ” but principally because they borrowed and spent more money than they were able to raise in taxes.”

    A question then, for you. When was the last government which didn’t do this?

  • John Tilley,

    I’m quite happy to see Conservatives or Labour supporters agreeing with me from time to time. But if I started second-guessing the way I express my views because of the opportunities other people have to misrepresent them, then I might find it difficult to say very much at all, as would we all.

    On your specifics, I though I had defined ‘hard left’ for you, but that comment seems to have disappeared. I suggested that Tony Benn at his worst was a decent benchmark of ‘hard left’.

    I don’t dislike trade unions, and I wonder where you got that from. The way they involve themselves in politics is undemocratic and corrupt but that shouldn’t be used to define them.

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