Health and Social Care Workers: Recognition and Reward Debate

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Department: Department of Health and Social Care

Health and Social Care Workers: Recognition and Reward

Alexander Stafford Excerpts
Thursday 25th June 2020

(10 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department of Health and Social Care
Gerald Jones Portrait Gerald Jones (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney) (Lab)
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25 Jun 2020, 12:03 a.m.

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.

Alexander Stafford Portrait Alexander Stafford (Rother Valley) (Con)
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25 Jun 2020, midnight

We have been fighting a war in Rother Valley over the past few months. Our enemy has been the coronavirus and we have all made great sacrifices. No one has sacrificed more than our incredible health and social care workers, who have put everything on the line to defeat this terrible virus. I speak from personal experience: my mother-in-law, Joyce, works in the NHS, and our family has shared the anxiety and worry that health professionals’ families are experiencing up and down the country.

Paul Bristow Portrait Paul Bristow
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25 Jun 2020, midnight

May I place on record my thanks to my hon. Friend’s mother-in-law, Joyce, who I believe works at Peterborough City Hospital?

Alexander Stafford Portrait Alexander Stafford
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25 Jun 2020, 12:01 a.m.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Paul Bristow) for his kind words. I thank all the people who work in the NHS. Without their dedication and experience, we would not be in the position we are in today. The British people owe those heroes an eternal debt of gratitude. Thanks to them, and to the Government’s strong and decisive actions, Britain is recovering day by day.

I pay tribute to the health and social care workers of Rother Valley. Once again, they have risen to the challenge and proven themselves to be the backbone of our community. Likewise GPs, such as those at the Stag medical centre and the Swallownest health centre, have been working hard to continue to treat people throughout the pandemic. I was moved by a recent letter from one of my constituents, Graham Makin, notifying me of the phenomenal work carried out by the care workers at Waterside Grange care home in Dinnington, who are looking after his wife during this crisis. Graham writes:

“the outstanding dedication and incredible expertise that all the staff give to the residents. It is very close to a ‘family’ environment. To them this is not a job—certainly not for the money they earn—it is truly a vocation and a passion.”

Graham is of course right. He goes on to urge a better deal for those in the care sector. I am delighted that the Prime Minister has made social care a priority and pledged to consider social care as being of equal importance to the NHS. I know that everyone in this House and across our nation wants us to get social care done.

However, we must not forget that behind our health and social care workers there are many others in the community who have helped the NHS. Robert Holland, an engineer from Dinnington, offered to use his engineering expertise to convert tyre inflation equipment to hospital ventilators. Cawthorne’s Travel has been laying on free buses to take NHS workers to Rotherham General Hospital. Local groups, such as the Thurcroft coronavirus action group, led valiantly by Cath MacCartan and Diane Oxley, have been doing such great work for our community. Those selfless actions are just the tip of the iceberg in Rother Valley.

I ask the House how best we can recognise and reward health and social care workers, but also those who have done so much to help the NHS. People in Rother Valley have already taken this matter in their own hands. For example, coaches, parents and players of Laughton FC’s under-11s have already been fundraising for hampers for NHS workers. Mark Kelsall from Maltby has been creating wonderful oil paintings of local NHS staff. Shaun and Halle Salmon created an amazing Lego superhero mural that is now in the reception of Rotherham Hospital. Those are just a few ways that the people of Rother Valley have given back. For my part, I am proud to have instituted the Rother Valley hero awards for this very purpose.

I contend that nationally we must do the same by rewarding campaign medals to our British heroes who have fought the virus. My constituent Andrew Gardner of Thurcroft suggested to me that we should hold a memorial event for health and social care workers, which would take place in Whitehall much like the events on Remembrance Sunday. I believe that that proposal merits serious consideration and should be taken forward. Ultimately, it is of the utmost importance that the House pursues all avenues, including looking at pay and rewards, in recognising and rewarding the heroism of our health and social care workers, and the selflessness of those who have helped the NHS both in Rother Valley and across the United Kingdom. Without them, we would not have been able to pull through this crisis.

Alex Davies-Jones Portrait Alex Davies-Jones (Pontypridd) (Lab)
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25 Jun 2020, midnight

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.