Socialist Worker

Labour is right on the NHS pay cap - now get the fat cats out of the health service

by Tomáš Tengely-Evans
Issue No. 2552

NHS workers on strike over pay in 2014

NHS workers on strike over pay in 2014 (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Labour has pledged today, Wednesday, to scrap the Tories’ 1 percent pay cap for tens of thousands of health workers.

The party’s shadow health secretary John Ashworth addressed the Unison union’s health conference in Liverpool. He said health workers had been “ignored, insulted, undervalued, overworked and underpaid”.  

“I can confirm that an incoming Labour government will scrap the pay cap and give NHS workers the pay they deserve,” he said.

The right wing press has already jumped on Ashworth’s speech as a “reckless” move that would push the NHS deeper into crisis. The Daily Mail newspaper claimed the cap “has helped to prevent health trusts slipping even further into the red”.

It said lifting the cap would “blow a “£1 billion hole in the health budget”—as the Tories plan to create a £22 billion crater. Their plans come on top of years of budget cuts, marketisation and privatisation that have left the NHS reeling.

Health workers lost over £4.3 billion from their wage packets between 2010 and 2016 because of the pay cap that’s imposed until 2020. If the Tories aren’t pushed back through strikes or voted out in June, workers will lose even more.

With inflation running at 2.3 percent, the cap amounts to a pay cut. This isn’t just pushing NHS workers into poverty – it has consequences for patient care.

Scandalously low pay and rocketing workloads are pushing health workers out of the NHS, fuelling an acute staffing crisis.

This has been made worse by the Tories axing bursaries for nurses, occupational therapists and other health students. As Ashworth said, “We want NHS staff to be the best trained in the world, not kick the ladder away.

“That why we will introduce NHS bursaries”.

Promised

Labour is absolutely right to promise to scrap the pay cap. Ashworth also rightly promised to “axe the Health and Social Care Act and reinstate the secretary of state for health’s responsibility”.

To fully renationalise the NHS, a Labour government should immediately scrap the private contracts. This should include private finance initiatives that see hospitals handing billions of pounds to private contractors.

But Ashworth said “Labour will put staff on all company boards, including private companies or hand contracts back.

Ashworth said that he would “put pay back into the hands of the independent pay review body”. Pay would be “agreed through collective bargaining and the evidence of independent pay review bodies”.

But there is nothing “independent” about pay review bodies and they should be scrapped altogether.

The right are already bleating that the money isn’t there. Ashworth said it would come from corporation tax increases.

According to the Office for National Statistics, corporation tax receipts increased by more than 21 percent over the last financial year to a record high of £55.6 billion.

Yet corporation tax rates have fallen steadily, handing billions to the bosses. In 1999 the rate was 30 percent. It will soon be just 17 percent. A rise to 22 percent would raise at least £10 billion. Increasing corporation tax further would raise billions more.

To get the NHS out of its critical condition, Labour will have to tax the rich.


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