24 Nov 2014

NHS staff: struggling to make ends meet

​​The sun was out (a change from last month’s strike when it tipped down with rain) and so were the workers.  There were about 150 of them on the picket line outside the Royal Sussex hospital in Brighton.

For four hours, from 7am to 11am, they protested against the government’s refusal to accept the pay review body recommendation that all NHS staff should receive a 1 per cent pay rise.

In Sussex, the union reps make the point that staff are struggling to make ends meet because the rents and the cost of housing in Brighton are high (though there is no London weighting).

We talked to Sara Cumming, a 33-year-old midwife, who earns £26,000 a year and will get no incremental pay rise because she is at the bottom of her band but has only just got there, and she won’t get the 1 per cent because she is not at the top of her band.  Make of that what you will.

She shares a mortgage with her partner although some weeks she has to pay the lot if his business hasn’t done so well.  So on a good month her outgoings are £1,000 on a bad month they are £1,500.

Sara told me she has made a conscious decision not to buy a car and to walk to work because otherwise she would have to take two buses and that would be too expensive.  Sometimes she is able to borrow a neighbour’s bike.

Then there was Katherine Perry, 35, a healthcare assistant, on band three, so earning £18,500 a year.  She will get the 1 per cent pay rise, although, as she says, 1 per cent of not much is still not much.

She is the main breadwinner with two children.  There is nothing left over at the end of the month.

Still, the government and the unions have not made it back to the negotiating table.  And the spectre is rising now of more industrial action in the new year.

Last month nine unions went out, today 11 and by January that could rise to 13.  Discussions are on going.  So far the strikes have been carefully calibrated.  The four hours means there is not massive disruption but the point is made.

But the unions have discussed and will discuss again whether it should be an all day strike which fundamentally changes the nature of the game.  If that happens, they say, it will be the government to blame for affecting NHS services.

The government maintains that the NHS cannot afford a 1 per cent pay rise.  Last month they said that would be the equivalent of 14,000 newly qualified nursing posts.  Today, they said it was equal to 10,000 general NHS staff posts.

Apparently, it means the same thing, it is just a different way of painting the same picture.

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