Unions representing nurses and other healthcare staff have reacted angrily to reports that the government is planning to cap public sector pay rises at 2% in the next financial year.
The Times today reported Treasury briefings that pay increases would be limited to 2% “across the board” in the public sector for 2023/24 as the government seeks to plug a multi-billion pound gap in the public finances.
“One solution to the nursing workforce crisis is to recruit and retain more staff by paying them fairly”
This would almost certainly represent a real-terms pay cut for NHS and other public sector staff, with the current inflation rate standing at 10.1%.
The newspaper reported that new prime minister Rishi Sunak, and chancellor Jeremy Hunt, met yesterday to discuss spending cuts and tax increases for the next financial year, with government departments expected to be told of their budgets this week.
Though a spokesperson at the Treasury has since insisted the pay review process for NHS staff for next year has yet to begin.
The Royal College of Nursing, the Royal College of Midwives, and Unison have been balloting their members across the UK on taking strike action over current pay offers for 2022-23.
Royal College of Nursing general secretary and chief executive, Pat Cullen, said capping public sector pay at 2% would be “bad politics and bad economics”.
“Today’s ministers are stuck on yesterday’s ideas of giving yet more pay cuts – our members have had a decade of this, they’ve paid the price and enough is enough,” she said.
“Only last week new research we commissioned showed experienced nurses effectively are working one day a week for free because of a decade of real-terms pay cuts.
“One solution to the nursing workforce crisis, which is making care unsafe, is to recruit and retain more staff by paying them fairly.”
Meanwhile, Unison general secretary Christina McAnea, said: “Holding down pay for public sector staff is the worst possible response. This shows a government with no ideas, nor a grasp of the reality of people’s lives.
“The NHS, care and other key services already have a workforce crisis. Many more staff will walk if they know there’s no prospect of a decent pay rise for years.
“If Rishi Sunak is to hold true to his day-one promise as prime minister to strengthen the NHS, he needs to deliver better pay. That goes for all public services.”
In England and Wales, most nurses on Agenda for Change contracts were this summer handed a £1,400 pay rise, in line with the recommendations of the NHS Pay Review Body. Nurses in Northern Ireland continue to wait for a formal announcement on pay because of budget uncertainties and political instability.
In Scotland, the government has in recent days put forward a new offer that would see NHS staff given a £2,205 uplift – equal to an 8.45% increase for most nurses.
Unison had been balloting its members in Scotland on strike over the previous 5% deal in recent weeks, but has now decided to put this on hold and move to an online consultation on the new offer.
Responding to the reports, a Treasury spokesperson said: “Pay for most frontline workforces – including nurses, teachers, armed forces and police officers – is set through an independent Pay Review Body process. Pay Review Bodies are yet to start their consideration for pay awards next year.
“This year’s public pay awards were the highest uplift in nearly twenty years, with all NHS pay bands receiving a £1,400 increase and those at the lowest end seeing a pay rise of 9.3%.”