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

Kieran Mullan Excerpts
Thursday 25th June 2020

(10 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department of Health and Social Care
Abena Oppong-Asare Portrait Abena Oppong-Asare (Erith and Thamesmead) (Lab)
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25 Jun 2020, 12:06 a.m.

I speak today in favour of a pay increase for NHS healthcare workers. More than 500 constituents have signed the petition calling on the Government to recognise the hard work and sacrifice of healthcare workers with a pay increase. I completely agree that those working in the health and social care sector deserve a pay increase, not only as a recognition of their hard work during the crisis, but as a necessary step towards ensuring their future wellbeing.

For years, this Government have stood by as our NHS and care staff have given their all to provide a great healthcare service while their families fall further into poverty. In 2018, we saw a rise in the number of nurses using food banks, with one study finding that 38% of nurses struggle to buy food and that 50.5% had considered quitting their profession because of financial difficulties. More than half of all care workers are paid less than the real living wage and these workers are four times more likely to be on a zero-hours contract than the average worker.

This pay rise is not just about rewarding people for their hard work; it is about recognising the real and negative impact that low pay has had on our health and social care workers. Some 15% of workers in low-quality, low-paid jobs say that they have poor-quality health, which compares with a figure of 7% for those in good working environments. Covid-19 has thrived on inequality, with people in the poorest parts of England twice as likely to die from covid-19. Perhaps there is some correlation between that fact and the fact that our poorly paid social care workers are almost twice as likely to die from covid-19. Ensuring that health and social care staff work in a high-quality and well-paid environment benefits us all.

Covid-19 has highlighted how much the UK needs a well-functioning NHS and social care system, and how lucky we are to have access to healthcare. However, organisations are already warning of mass vacancies in the future. How are the Government planning to fulfil their promise, as well as to recruit more than 100,000 employees to the care sector, given that what they are offering is low-paid, high-stress, insecure work? I have been contacted throughout this crisis by many constituents urging me to support a pay rise for workers in the healthcare sector. Today, I am asking the Government to show all the hard-working NHS and social care staff in Erith and Thamesmead, and across the UK, the support they deserve and to give them this much-needed pay rise.

Kieran Mullan Portrait Dr Kieran Mullan (Crewe and Nantwich) (Con)
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25 Jun 2020, midnight

I thank all the people who have signed the petitions that we are debating for expressing their support for NHS and social care staff and for the generosity of spirit that they have shown. It has given everyone in this place another chance to show our appreciation for NHS and social care staff. From working alongside colleagues, I know that it makes a difference: they notice these things.

We have seen an astonishing contribution over recent months, but many NHS and social care staff make fantastic contributions every day as part of their normal work. People go into the NHS and social care with open eyes—they are not naive about what their roles entail—but that does not mean that we should not try harder to understand better how some roles and areas of work do not give staff the work-life balance that we would expect or the ability to deliver the care that we would want them to be able to deliver. As the workforce more generally moves towards greater flexibility and better work-life balance, NHS and social care staff will increasingly compare their work experiences and will perhaps not recommend that future generations go down the same route. We must tackle that.

That is why I am glad that at the most recent election the Government made some incredibly ambitious commitments for NHS staffing levels, particularly GP and nursing staff levels. The successful delivery of those goals will make an enormous difference. To get there, the Government will really have to get to grips with recruitment and retention in the NHS in a way that in recent years no party has done. We have made some good progress already: we have seen some good figures today on the increases in NHS and doctor numbers; junior doctors’ pay scales will have increased by at least 8% by 2023; and nurses will have received increases of between 6.5% and 9% by next year. The reward package also includes things such as pensions, some of which are the best available: members of the scheme can generally expect to receive £3 to £6 in pension benefits for every £1 that they contribute.

It is not just about pay, though. For example, in GP practice we see an enormous shift among new recruits to part-time work, because people want more flexibility. They want to live a different style of life, and that will have an enormous impact on the workforce across NHS. I want to use the focus on NHS and social care staff that has come about in the light of the pandemic and the extraordinary contributions that have been made to get everybody in this place to engage with the significant workforce challenges that we will face given an ageing population and an increase in demand.

Pay is never easy for any Government—there is always a need to look after the nation’s finances—but a recognition of the important role that healthcare can have in stimulating the economy and creating jobs and innovation should be given greater weight in the Treasury’s calculations. We do not yet know what the underlying finances are going to be in future years, as all the impacts of the pandemic play out, but within those constraints I want the Government to do everything they can to go as far as they can to reward and recognise the contribution of NHS and social care staff.

Meg Hillier Portrait Meg Hillier (Hackney South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op)
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25 Jun 2020, 12:03 a.m.

I agree with the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Dr Mullan) that pay is difficult to sort out because it is often systemic, but it needs to be fair.

I speak today solely about contract staff in the NHS, although I associate myself with the comments made by the hon. Member for Twickenham (Munira Wilson) about the similar situation in the social care sector. I am not talking about those who are directly employed; I am talking for myself and on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), who is unable to speak because of shielding, about the thousands of staff working on outsourced contracts who are paid considerably less—often lower than the minimum wage—and who have fewer rights to sick leave; who have much less job security, if any; who are often on zero-hours or uncertain contracts; and who are disproportionately from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds. I pay tribute to the GMB trade union for highlighting how many agency workers were going to work sick because they had to choose between working and paying their basic bills. The move to a secure sick pay is a start, but it is not enough and it is not yet firmed up for the long term.

Homerton University Hospital in my constituency is an excellent hospital that does great work, but it is now in the throes of agreeing a five-year extension to a contract for hospital cleaners and other ancillary staff employed by ISS. My right hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington and I are concerned about such a long extension leaving key workers on low pay without the protection and recognition that NHS employed staff have, but the real issue is systemic: it is not about the individual trusts but about how the Government choose to fund hospitals, such that from day one they cannot fund their full staff complement. The NHS systemically is funded such that it bakes in the assumption of low-paid, insecure workers on outsourced contracts. As of 2018-19, for which we have the most recent figures to be audited, the combined deficit of trusts in England was £844 million—up £86 million from the year before. That is the heart of the problem.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington and I are really clear that the Government need to foster a system that is not reliant on low pay. So low-paid are these workers, the irony is that their pay is topped up by taxpayer-funded universal credit and other benefits. We are both clear that if people are facing the same risk, they should have the same reward. This inequality cannot continue, and if we are to learn anything from the covid-19 crisis, it is that we need to level up so those who work for the lowest pay—poverty pay—are getting a fairer deal.