Health and Social Care Workers: Recognition and Reward DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
Alexander StaffordMain Page: Alexander Stafford (Conservative - Rother Valley)
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I am pleased to be able to speak in this important debate, supported by millions of people across the country, including some in my constituency. Nothing we do will ever truly recognise our care workers for what they do, but the Government must acknowledge their sacrifices and their dedication and commitment. As Ministers and Members from across the House have acknowledged time and again during the pandemic, these are truly exceptional times. Our NHS and care workers across the UK are doing truly exceptional work, so often invisible to the vast majority of us.
It has never been more important than now to recognise the invaluable contribution our care workers make, especially those who are not paid properly for their sacrifices and the often difficult and long hours they work to support those in need, families and local communities. I pay tribute to the Welsh Labour Government for leading the way, as ever, in recognising care workers. In April, the Welsh Government agreed a £500 payment and subsequently agreed that it will apply not only to carers in Wales, but to cooks, cleaners and a range of other key frontline staff working on the frontline in care who make an immeasurable contribution to the health and wellbeing of those most in need.
I urge the UK Government to do the right thing, make an exception in this case and allow care workers to keep the entire £500 one-off payment in recognition of their efforts not only during the pandemic, but all year round. To do anything less is an insult to the sacrifices they have made and the pressure that they put themselves under to care for those most in need during such a difficult time. I ask the Minister to confirm that she will make representations to the Treasury in this regard and will indeed allow carers in Wales to receive the full £500 in recognition of their amazing efforts during the pandemic, and remove the tax requirement in this case.
The Welsh Government have arranged for payment to thank care workers, despite operating on a budget from Westminster that has been subjected to a decade of harsh austerity. As we have heard, there are many ways in which the UK Government can give proper recognition to the many thousands of people working in social care across the country, rather than simply clapping on a Thursday night. The Government should fully recognise the work of care staff and, at the very least, increase pay, testing and the provision of PPE for NHS and care workers immediately to ease the immense pressure on the shoulders of many who provide care to those in need, allowing them to feel safe, given the many risks they face day to day, not only on the frontline during the pandemic but throughout the year. I urge the Government to act and I hope the Minister will respond accordingly.
I rise to speak on behalf of the 434 residents in the Pontypridd constituency who have signed the petitions relating to the recognition and reward of health and social care workers. It is clear that the creation of the NHS is undoubtedly the Labour party’s greatest ever achievement and one which I will always personally champion. I hope colleagues on all Benches will indulge me as I also use today’s debate to celebrate the 20th birthday of NHS Direct Wales, which is taking place this week.
It is all too easy to reduce the NHS workforce to doctors and nurses, but given that there are around 400 different job roles in our NHS, it is important that all NHS staff are given the credit they deserve for their incredible work all year round. Among many others, the porters, cleaners, caterers, healthcare assistants, allied health professionals and the many invaluable volunteers who give up their free time truly are the unsung heroes of our NHS. The coronavirus pandemic has provided a unique opportunity to truly show our thanks and appreciation. Call me old-fashioned, but I am not sure that a handclap or a medal quite cuts it. I wonder whether the Minister would be satisfied with a handclap or a pat on the back instead of receiving her additional ministerial salary—something tells me the answer is no.
Naturally, as a proud Welsh valleys woman, it would be wrong—rude, even—for me not to take the opportunity today to highlight how different things are across the border thanks to the fantastic Welsh Labour Government. As my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Gerald Jones) said, the Welsh Labour Government are leading the way in the response to the coronavirus pandemic. They say that where Wales leads, England follows, and I am more than inclined to agree.
Thanks to the Welsh Labour Government, social care and domiciliary care workers in Wales, including agency workers, and support staff in care homes such as kitchen workers and cleaners will soon receive a diolch or thank-you payment of up to £500—a payment that will be available to 64,600 care home workers and domiciliary care workers throughout Wales. That comes after the Welsh Labour Government have already pledged to commit an incredible £40 million of extra funding for adult social care services, to help meet the extra costs associated with the response to the pandemic.
Clearly, that payment is a reward in recognition of the unprecedented circumstances and strain that have been placed on all our NHS staff across the Union, from Pontypridd in south Wales to Perth in Scotland. It is even clearer to me that this payment should be exempt from income tax and national insurance contributions—something that the Welsh Labour First Minister and colleagues in the House have been calling for. So far, Her Majesty’s Treasury has point-blank refused—talk about a kick in the teeth for workers who have literally put their lives on the line to keep us all safe. NHS workers in Pontypridd and throughout Wales deserve better.
Colleagues will be aware that, thanks to another fantastic Labour-led campaign, the Prime Minister was forced to U-turn again this week. He is running in circles. If the Minister needs any information on Wales and how we can best tackle the coronavirus pandemic, I am more than happy to offer my services; she knows where to find me. I hope that where Wales leads, England will follow.