Health and Social Care Workers: Recognition and Reward DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
Justin MaddersMain Page: Justin Madders (Labour - Ellesmere Port and Neston)
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I congratulate the Petitions Committee and the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) on opening the debate and securing the time for it. I also congratulate the Members who made thoughtful and, in some cases, personal speeches. One hundred and forty five of my constituents signed the main petition that is being discussed today and a proportionate number signed the others. It is important that they have the opportunity to hear that their voices have been heard. They and all of us joined in the 10 weeks of the clapping for carers, but all recognised, as others have said, that clapping is not enough and that there must be action and they demonstrated that by signing these petitions.
I would just note that there was another petition during lockdown that achieved 1.2 million signatures, but, because it did not come through the e-petition site, it is not available to be debated in the House in quite the same format, but I know that many Members would want to have the behaviour of the Prime Minister’s special adviser discussed on the Floor of the House.
When this crisis is over, the UK Government must find a way of honouring the amazing heroes in our NHS and care sector who are continuing to work tirelessly to help us all to defeat the coronavirus. The Scottish Government—the SNP Government—remain committed to passing on all Barnett consequentials for health spending to the NHS in Scotland. Throughout this time, and for many years now, all NHS staff in Scotland have been paid the real living wage, not the pretendy living wage implemented by the Tory Government. Nurses across all bands are paid better in Scotland than anywhere else in the UK, and the Scottish Government are delivering the highest pay rise for NHS agenda for change staff anywhere in the UK. Employees will receive at least a 9% pay rise for the three years from 2019.
The Scottish Government spend about £130 per head more on social care than is spent in England, and they are the only Government in the UK to fund free personal care. Also, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) said earlier, they have already brought forward a 3% pay rise for social care workers in recognition of the work that they are doing at this time. Recognising the particular challenges presented by covid19, the Scottish Government, with cross-party support in Holyrood, are working to establish a sick pay fund as a matter of urgency to ensure that care workers whose employer terms and conditions fall short and who test positive for covid-19 receive sick pay above the current statutory level of £95.85 a week. As we know, that is one of the worst sick pay legal frameworks anywhere in Europe.
The Scottish Government were also the first in the United Kingdom to announce a death in service provision for covid-19 deaths among NHS staff. That benefit mirrors what is available in the NHS pension scheme: a lump sum and ongoing survivor’s benefit. However, it is unacceptable that some social care workers’ contracts of employment offer no cover for death in service, so the Scottish Government are putting in place that kind of cover for when any social care worker dies without death in service cover in their contracted pension arrangements. The Scottish Government will provide a one-off payment of £60,000 to a named survivor, and this will be retrospective. That is important because, as of 23 June, the Scottish Government have been informed by health boards or the Care Inspectorate of seven deaths of health care workers and 12 deaths of social care workers related to covid-19.
I have some experience of this. The Wyndford Locks care home in Maryhill was one of the first in Scotland to experience the death of a staff member due to covid-19. Also, one of my constituents, Christine Gallagher, lost her beloved son Michael to the disease. He was providing frontline care, employed by an agency, in central Scotland. His loss is keenly felt by his family. Too many families across the country are feeling such losses. His mother told me that she could not attend his funeral because of public health restrictions. She had to stay at home with a photograph of her son and light a candle. I want to pay tribute to Michael for the love and support that he showed to so many in his care, and express my condolences to his family and all the other families who have experienced tragic losses due to covid-19. May they all rest in peace.
This is why it is so important that the healthcare and social care workers, whether in the NHS or private sector, have the pay and benefits that they and their families deserve for the work they do to keep us all safe. That includes healthcare workers who have made their home in Scotland, even if they began their lives or careers elsewhere. So, while we welcome the principle of scrapping the NHS surcharge, it does not appear to have happened in practice yet. Perhaps the Minister can tell us when it will come into effect, because we are still hearing of healthcare workers being told by the Home Office that the surcharge is still payable and there is no guarantee of a refund.
In too many cases, the hostile environment continues despite all these warm words. Even in the middle of the pandemic, we see cases of NHS staff being told that they are no longer welcome. I have a constituent, Jessica Forsyth, an Australian national on a youth mobility visa. Her visa expires at the end of July and she has been told by UK Visas and Immigration that she cannot apply because she is deemed unskilled and earns below the £30,000 threshold, even though she is providing essential services to the NHS. She has made Scotland her home and built her life here, and I hope the Minister can help me to solicit the reply I am waiting for from the Home Office about her case.
It is clear that, while all this work has been taking place, we also have to ensure that we are planning for the next phase. We must learn the lessons and use the coming months to ensure that PPE is fully stockpiled, that supply lines are in place and that procedures are changed where necessary, so that as the second wave hits, there will be a vastly improved level of preparation. As we open up the health service to wider services, that must be done using an evidence-based, cautious and phased approach, for the sake of both staff and patients.
I think that many in the NHS and social care would echo the words of the declaration of Arbroath—it is not for glory, nor honours, nor riches that they fight. But that does not mean that they do not deserve them, and when all this is over we have to make sure that they are properly rewarded and recognised.
I welcome this debate, because our NHS and care system is only as strong as the people within it. Throughout the pandemic, NHS and care workers have taken centre stage; we have all seen the dedication and care with which they approach their work, and the esteem in which they are held by the public, as these petitions demonstrate. This debate has also demonstrated the esteem in which they are held by hon. Members. I am determined that we should look after our health and social care staff, just as they look after us.
First, I will talk about pay, as that is the focus of the petitions. I want to reinforce that we have already delivered multi-year pay and contract reform deals for over 1 million NHS staff, in partnership with trade unions. In the past three years, nurses have seen their starting salaries increase by more than 12% and the vast majority of nurses have seen their pay increase by at least 6.5%, while the starting salaries for healthcare assistants have also increased by 16%. We have also increased pay for junior doctors to recognise the huge contribution that they make to our NHS. By the end of their four-year deal, junior doctor pay scales will have increased by at least 8%.
My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Dr Mullan) referred to the Government’s commitment to increase the number of doctors and nurses in the NHS, and he rightly said that recruitment and retention is not just about pay, but about experience. I am determined that we must improve the experience for the NHS workforce.
The shadow Minister spoke about vacancies in the NHS. I hope that he will welcome the good news that we heard today in the latest NHS workforce statistics that the number of nurses in England has gone up by more than 12,000 in the past year and we have over 6,000 more doctors. Compared with 2010, we now have 23,100 more doctors and 22,200 more nurses in the NHS. We want to recruit more, however, so we are providing financial support for nurses to train, and from this September, new and continuing nursing students will be able to get a maintenance grant of at least £5,000 per academic year.
Our social care staff have also played an incredible role during the pandemic. I am always blown away by the compassion that is shown by our care workers, who look after people who are at their most vulnerable. That was articulated so well this afternoon by my hon. Friends the Members for Peterborough (Paul Bristow), for Watford (Dean Russell), for Beaconsfield (Joy Morrissey) and for Rother Valley (Alexander Stafford) and many other colleagues.
Hon. Members will be aware that the Government do not set pay for social care workers in England. However, we are committed to raising the profile of our social care workforce and giving them the support they need. At a recent meeting of the Health and Social Care Committee, we heard from care workers about how some of them felt underappreciated by the public as a whole, and that is something we need to fix. After all, this is a job where staff have a chance to make a difference to people’s lives every single day that they go to work. As a start, we have adopted the CARE brand, for which I thank Care England. We have taken that on in order to build recognition of care workers.
Since the pandemic hit us, we have put in place support for care workers who have been at the frontline during this time. We are providing mental health support and bereavement support commissioned from Samaritans and Hospice UK. We have launched the care workforce app to bring together resources and guidance, and we are providing funding of £3.2 billion and then a further £600 million for local authorities to pass on to care providers so that they can provide full pay to staff who are isolating. We have made it clear to local authorities and providers that we expect that to happen.
One of the petitions that is in front of us today is entitled:
“We would like the government to consider social care as equally important to NHS”.
That is something that I passionately believe in. Social care is, absolutely, equally important. I know my colleagues in Government agree. As we heard in this debate, that sentiment is shared by many hon. Members, and we rightly now talk about health and social care workers in the same breath.
In the months ahead, as we pledged in our manifesto, we will be looking at how we can build a long-term solution for social care, so that in the long term care workers get the rewards they deserve, and—as argued for by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mark Fletcher), in particular—so that everyone can have the dignity and security that they deserve.
Finally, I want to raise the contribution of our overseas staff. The NHS has benefited from the contribution of so many people from all over the world. I would like to take a moment to thank all our overseas NHS staff. I know that this has been a difficult time for many of you, especially as we have learned that BAME communities have been disproportionately impacted by the virus. We are so grateful to you for your hard work, and I want the system to do all it can to protect you.
On 21 May, the Prime Minister announced that NHS and social care workers would now be exempt from the immigration health surcharge. NHS and care workers who paid the surcharge from 21 May will be refunded, and we are getting on with the arrangements as fast as we possibly can. We are also continuing to provide free visa extensions and auto renewal of visas for workers who are eligible, and we will be introducing a new fast-track healthcare visa to make it quicker and easier for health and care staff to come and work in our health and social care system.
Our NHS and social care workers do a truly wonderful job delivering world-class care to so many. I would like to thank everybody who signed the petitions for making their voice heard. I would like to end by encouraging everyone who is thinking about joining our health and care system to do so. Caring for others is one of the greatest and most important vocations. We will do everything in our power to protect and support health and social care workers during this pandemic and beyond.