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The nurse that’s saying no to public-sector pay inequality

When the government’s public-sector pay rise snubbed many of the lowest-paid NHS workers, a single nurse decided to take action — and started a movement. LUCY WOOD tells the story

NESS WOODCOCK-DENNIS was a nurse for many years but after four years of the public pay freeze, she quit in 2014 to become a tutor. She now teaches the future nurses of the NHS.

“I can’t in good conscience teach these students and not do anything,” she says, “they need to be treated with respect.” That is why on the evening of the government announcement, Ness created a Facebook group called NHS Workers Say No to Public Sector Pay Inequality.

Within a day the group had over 20,000 members, many helping to organise and plan action to protest for fairer pay for nurses and NHS workers. By day five, the group has over 62,000 members and 18 confirmed protest marches across Britain on August 8 at 11am.

Ness, who was hoping just for “some interest” when she set up the group, says that nurses work under “extreme stress” but often do not protest, because “they care too much... it is their job to care.” She says they have been “devalued and beaten down for too long.” She goes on to say: “This group has made us all feel unstoppable and feeling… hope!”

Often people will feel disempowered and like they are unable as just one person to do anything about what is happening around them but Ness has really shown that just one person can be the catalyst for something much bigger.

Ness could not stand the devaluation of nurses anymore and chose to do something about it and her voice reached over 60,000 others. Her one action is now creating many voices to speak up and organise together in a united team effort to draw awareness of the injustice of this government’s political choices.

It is a political choice to award pay rises for other public-sector workers and to choose not to include nurses and other low paid NHS occupations. Within the same week the government snubbed these workers they also voted against protections for the NHS in a US trade deal. You could be forgiven for thinking that the government are purposefully keeping the pay roll lower to ensure the NHS is an inviting prospect for potential US private medical firms.

The government has shown in this crisis that this country is capable of spending money as if there were a magic money tree. It has awarded rich billionaire corporations money to keep their staff employed or to compensate for loss of earnings. It has given money away to businesses to procure items that have not been delivered.

In a recent article by the Byline Times it was calculated that £57.193 billion was the total sum of wasted money that this Conservative government has squandered since October 2019. This sum includes £11.8 million for a track and trace app that didn’t work, while in Ireland they have a working track and trace app, which cost less than £1 million. Why did it cost the government so much?

If this government can award contracts worth millions to businesses, which have no staff, no experience and no trading history in producing what the government is paying for, then it most certainly can award nurses and low-paid NHS workers a funded pay rise of 15 per cent to make up for the 10 years of wage stagnation.

NHS workers are now coming together to challenge the recent decision, which has seen an average nurse lose 20 per cent of their wage to inflation since 2010. Low pay is widely seen to have contributed to the 44,000 nursing vacancies within the NHS in England, which leaves patients vulnerable especially if there is a second spike of Covid-19.

After setting up the group, Ness has been hearing stories of nurses having to use foodbanks and take out payday loans. “This is utterly disgusting and unacceptable. We have worked tirelessly in our roles, not just through Covid-19 but for the last decade and yet again we have been treated with utter contempt by the government.”

Amnesty reported that Britain has some of the highest Covid-19 health worker deaths in the world with more than 540 health and social worker deaths in England and Wales. Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said: “It is tragic that we’ve seen so many of our dedicated health and social care workers in England and Wales die from Covid-19.”

The whole country took part in clapping for carers during the lockdown, which showed how much the population values and cares for our NHS and its staff. Now NHS staff need the country to stand in solidarity with them again and help them achieve the respect they deserve in the work place.

Visit www.facebook.com/NHSworkersSayNo and @nurseSayNo.

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