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Angry nurses launch silent pay protests

NHS staff dismiss Tory funding rise as a ‘slap in the face’

Parliamentary reporter @TrinderMatt

NURSES will stage silent protests today over the failure of Tory ministers to give them a decent pay rise, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) says.

Health unions argue that the 3 per cent increase offered to most NHS staff in England and Wales does nothing to address a decade of austerity pay and shows disrespect to workers during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The RCN, which wants a 12.5 per cent rise, said that nurses will bow their heads and stand in silence in public spaces in a display of peaceful defiance.

Workers will protest respectfully, in direct contrast to how they have been treated by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the union stressed.

General secretary Pat Cullen said that the “voice of nursing has been ignored for such a long time,” warning that ministers must change course quickly or face strike action. 

The news of the planned protests coincided with campaigners dismissing the PM’s announcement of a £5.4 billion extra investment in the NHS this year – barely half the £10bn that health leaders say is needed – as a “slap in the face” for a service on the brink.

Keep Our NHS Public’s Dr John Lister pointed out yesterday that the health service needs new staff and buildings and the cash is “not a serious response to a crisis that predates Covid.”

The announcement was made ahead of the confirmation of manifesto-busting tax increases from next April to tackle NHS Covid-19 backlogs and overhaul social care.

A 1.25 percentage point increase in national insurance contributions – branded “regressive” even by some senior Tories – will raise £36bn over the next three years, according to Mr Johnson.

Most of the money is set to go to the NHS initially, but, from 2023, the increase will be rebadged as a health and social care levy, appearing on payslips.

It will be extended at that point to cover pensioners still in work and the proceeds will be hypothecated – put into a separate pot by law.

Care costs will be capped at £86,000 and anyone with savings under £100,000 will get some state help. Those with less than £20,000 are due to have all costs covered. 

While the new cap will apply only to England, the levy will be collected across Britain and the north of Ireland.

The PM, who called the plan “the biggest catch-up programme in NHS history” which would “fix the long-term problems” of social care, also claimed that both services would soon become more integrated.

But the decision to break an explicit manifesto promise sparked a backlash among Tory MPs, while Labour warned that the impact of the increases would be borne by younger, low-income workers.

Party leader Sir Keir Starmer accused Mr Johnson of “putting a sticking plaster over a gaping wound.”

He said many people would still have to sell their homes to cover care costs and already poorly paid care workers would get no wage boost under the plans.

The GMB union is campaigning for workers in the sector to receive £15 an hour, warning that many will leave their jobs if change is not forthcoming.

Sir Keir confirmed that Labour would vote against the national insurance rise and came close to backing TUC calls for a fairer and more sustainable increase in capital gains tax by saying that those with the “broadest shoulders” should pay more. 

In response, Leeds East Labour MP Richard Burgon said that “timidity from the Labour leadership risks many more years of Tory rule. 

“If Labour is to expose the Tory rhetoric about ‘levelling up,’ then the leadership needs to be much clearer,” he argued.

“A wealth tax is the perfect way of showing whose side we are on.”

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady dismissed the PM’s “disappointing” announcement as amounting to “vague promises of money tomorrow.”

She added that proposals to also tax share dividends “should have been just once piece in a plan to tax wealth, not an afterthought to a plan to tax low-paid workers.

“We need a genuine plan that will urgently tackle the endemic low pay and job insecurity that blights the social care sector,” Ms O’Grady stressed.

Unite backed demands for a wealth tax on “property and unearned income” as a way out of the crisis, while Unison general secretary Christina McAnea said that the “focus on funding instead of reform is a cart-before-the-horse approach.”

A detailed plan is needed first to “future-proof a sector broken by years of neglect,” she added. 

Disability charity Sense said it also felt let down, with chief executive Richard Kramer complaining that social care is again being treated as the “Cinderella service” compared with the NHS.

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