Health and Social Care Workers: Recognition and Reward DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
Dr Kieran MullanMain Page: Dr Kieran Mullan (Conservative) - Crewe and Nantwich)
Department Debates - View all Dr Kieran Mullan's debates with the Department of Health and Social Care
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.
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.