(2 years ago)Read Full debate
Thank you, Mr Hanson, for calling me to speak so early in today’s debate. Given the large number of people who wish to speak, I will try to keep my comments relatively brief. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington North (Helen Jones) on setting out so powerfully how the Government are on the wrong track with regard to public sector pay. I also wish to declare an interest: two trade unions, Unison and the GMB, gave financial support to my constituency Labour party in the 2017 general election.
Right across the United Kingdom, we rely on our public servants each and every day to do the jobs that keep our communities and our country functioning—whether working for our local councils, maintaining our highways, cleansing our streets and villages, teaching in our schools, providing home care to the elderly, or working in our emergency services or Her Majesty’s armed forces. All those roles have one thing in common: they provide essential pubic services, and it is absolutely right that those public service workers need and deserve a fair pay rise.
The Government’s pay cap has been in place since 2010 —seven long years. Throughout that time, our hard-working public servants have endured significant financial pressures. Inflation has risen by 22% over this period, while public sector pay has risen by just 4.4%. Wage freezes and the Government’s pay cap have lasted throughout this time, bringing financial misery to public service workers and their families, and causing huge damage to services. For example, an average public sector worker, paid the median public sector wage in 2010 and subject to the two-year pay freeze followed by the pay cap, has seen the value of their wage drop by £4,700.
The pay cap and years of below-inflation pay awards are also having a significant impact on recruitment and retention, and are one reason why nurses have been leaving their profession in droves. Local government is having trouble recruiting and retaining staff, with the workforce survey revealing that 71% of councils are reporting issues. That recruitment and retention crisis applies across the public sector.
Although the Government have made pay offers in excess of 1% for some sectors, the pay cap effectively remains in place for the vast majority of public sector workers. It is important that the Government do not cherry-pick pay rises for some public sector workers, which could be seen as an attempt to divide.
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hanson. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington North (Helen Jones) for bringing this subject to us.
I have received a number of emails from constituents highlighting the effect of the public sector pay cap on them. One of my constituents—a single mum of two, who is also a nurse working part-time shifts—has been struggling to make ends meet, and Christmas is fast approaching. She needs extra money but is unable to do extra work due to childcare costs. The cost of living is increasing, but her wages do not reflect that.
I was a nurse for 40 years—I was elected to Parliament in the June election—and during that time, like many other nurses I experienced the pay cut. Many of us would say that we got three-week, not four-week, pay. When it came to the fourth week, many of us who could do extra work would do it, although we were overworked already. People with childcare responsibilities could not do that.
I am not only talking on behalf of the nurses; I am also talking on behalf of the support staff, who are on even lower pay. They would work 70 hours a week, which is not legal under the working time regulations, but what else could they do to keep a roof over their head? I was approached by a GP on Sunday, who asked me to talk about the fact that he cannot get practice nurses in his surgery because the wages are too low.
That is what happened to us throughout that time. I ask the Minister to look at this matter. I am a Unison member, and on its behalf I want to ask whether the Government will guarantee that the new deal on NHS pay, including the Agenda for Change, will get additional funding, and will not be paid for through cuts to annual leave and maternity pay. I can tell him this now: nurses and staff will not go for that.
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Because of the pressure of time, I will not, so that more people can speak.
The reward of those public servants is rising demand, rising workload and falling living standards. That is the impact of not only pay restraint but major cuts to, for example, local government budgets, leading in turn to problems with increments, shift changes and fewer people being employed, so those left having to do more. In our constituencies we can all see the impact on them and their families, as they have to turn to debt advice, pawning household goods, taking out payday loans and food banks, such as the home carer I met in a food bank in my constituency—a proud woman with two kids who loved her job but could not make ends meet without going to the food bank.
If public servants are suffering, so too are public services, through the turnover of labour and the stress on staff—very often, staff complements are stretched to the maximum and those who work in public services are demoralised. There is an impact on local economies, because if public servants get a pay rise, they do not salt away their money into Cayman Islands bank accounts; they spend it in the local economy, creating wealth and jobs. There is a grotesque contrast between the way that public servants are treated and what has been revealed in the paradise papers. This is a Britain where we have a Conservative Government that stand back and allow tax dodgers to get away with it, and then the Prime Minister says during the general election campaign to a nurse that there is no such thing as a magic money tree. Yes, there is, and they grow on the Cayman Islands, Bermuda and Jersey, helping the wealthy to avoid their responsibility to society.
I am grieved because I am from a family of public servants: when my dad came off the roads he was a train driver on the London underground; my mum was a nurse; my Uncle Mick, who lived with us, was a street cleaner. They believed in public services, as the country believes now in public services and public servants, but public servants have been let down by a failing, uncaring Government. It is interesting that a monastic vow of silence has been taken by those opposite, who have been reluctant to get up and defend what their Government are doing. The unmistakable message from this debate is that they may stay quiet but we will not. Labour is on the side of public servants.
It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mr Hanson. I wish to declare an interest; I used to be employed by Unison, which brought forward the petition and also donated to my general election campaign, together with Unite and GMB.
The Government’s austerity agenda has not only done great damage to our public sector services but brought our NHS to the brink of collapse. Indeed, in Hartlepool, our local hospital is at risk of haemorrhaging services, which is unacceptable to the people. I know from experience that relentless cuts and redundancies have led to remaining staff being over-stretched and under extreme pressure. For more years than I care to remember, those same workers have suffered pay restraints and pay caps. In the light of inflation, that has meant, in effect, that they have suffered a real-terms pay cut. It is a sad indictment of the situation created by this Government that health workers and other public sector workers in my constituency are resorting to food banks.
Things have got so bad that Unison gives out school uniform grants and other welfare provisions for those trapped in in-work poverty, and local branches increasingly issue food bank vouchers to their members who are in need. It is unacceptable that this situation has arisen and that NHS and other public sector workers are struggling to get by on low pay. The pay cap has been cited as one of the reasons why nurses have been leaving the profession in droves, yet its main purpose—addressing Government debt—has failed. Since the cap was introduced, Government debt has grown by around 50%, to reach £1.7 trillion in May this year. Our hard-working NHS staff should not suffer the burden of propping up—
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On a point of order, Mr Hanson. I need your advice. I was not able to put in to speak in this debate because I am not able to be here for the whole debate, but this matter was raised with me by two constituents and I came here to listen because I hoped that I would be educated. I have sat here and heard the Government being castigated. I wanted to intervene, and I was trying not to counteract your advice that we should not just intervene and leave the Chamber, but unfortunately the hon. Gentleman would not let me intervene. How do you think I can best make my point, other than through this point of order?
Thank you, Mr Hanson. I have not finished yet. I am grateful for the patience of the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan) and I am glad that a Government Member wants to speak, so I will take this opportunity to give her a chance to do so.
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You should ask your Minister how he will deal with these issues. If you care for the people, you should not ignore the workers, and you should not ignore the nurses—
I apologise. If the Government care for public sector workers, they should not ignore teachers and they should not ignore nurses. They should not ignore the 5.5 million workers in this country, and their families, who are struggling because of the cuts that the Government have made.
It is painful that only a handful of Government Members have turned up for this important debate. That shows that they do not care about our workers, who provide such a wonderful service to our country. As my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Laura Pidcock) said, if those workers stopped work today, the country would collapse. The Government need to take care of these workers and listen to them, and they should stop cutting their livelihood.