Lisa Nandy MP: Frontline key workers have been under-appreciated and underpaid
Lisa Nandy is the Labour MP for Wigan. This column was written on March 30 2021...
Last week we marked the sad one-year anniversary of the introduction of the first national lockdown aimed at limiting the spread of Covid 19.
We remembered the almost 150,000 people who have tragically lost their lives to this terrible virus and reflected on the sense of grief that so many people and families are feeling.
It was also a time to once again appreciate the immense contribution made by the key workers in our communities during the last 12 months. The NHS staff, care workers, teachers, supermarket workers, cleaners, delivery drivers and bus and rail workers to name but a few.
Without their efforts the impact of the virus could have been even more damaging, and we would not be looking forward to the expected lifting of restrictions in the coming weeks and months.
For far too long many frontline key workers have been under-appreciated and underpaid.
With the commitment and sacrifice they have shown over the past year we must recognise their true value and reward them for their vital work.
Our public sector key workers must be given the pay rise they deserve, and we must ensure that all workers are paid a wage they can actually live on.
I was therefore deeply concerned when at the end of last year, the Chancellor announced that many public sector workers would receive a pay freeze.
Firefighters, police officers, teaching staff, members of the armed forces and other key workers who willingly took on so much responsibility during this crisis are now being forced to tighten their belts.
The freeze will affect over 9,000 public sector workers in Wigan alone and will have a knock-on effect on our local businesses and high streets just as lockdown restrictions ease and they embark on the long road to recovery.
On top of the pay freeze, the Government are also forcing through council tax rises of up to 5% and proposing a cut to Universal Credit in six months that will hit those who can least afford it the most.
In his Budget earlier this month the Chancellor also proposed a miserly 1% increase in pay for our nurses and some other NHS staff.
With inflation set to rise this year, this represents a real-terms pay cut of hundreds of pounds for many NHS workers including nurses, health visitors and clinical staff.
This is not a new approach that the Government has been forced into. Since the Conservatives have been in power there have been many years of capped 1% pay rises or pay freezes for NHS workers and large numbers of them have seen a real pay decrease of 19%.
NHS staff have been central to the fight against Coronavirus, working around the clock to protect our NHS, save lives and roll out the vaccination programme.
Many have put their own health at great risk during the pandemic and we have already lost over 800 NHS workers to Covid 19.
NHS workers deserve to be respected, recognised and rewarded by the Government with the guarantee of a decent pay rise.
Many constituents have contacted me about this issue and have rightly pointed out that it is outrageous that the Government can spend £37 billion on the flawed private sector-led ‘test and trace’ programme, but can’t find the cash for a decent pay rise for those on the NHS frontline.
More generally it is wrong that so many of our key workers and others we have relied on over the past year are paid wages that they can barely survive on.
The Government must recognise that the consequences of the pandemic are being felt most by those who can ill afford it, such as those on low pay or in insecure employment.
I want to see an end to poverty pay for our social care workers and those who clean our hospitals and deliver our groceries. We must increase the minimum wage to a level people can actually survive and support a family on – a real living wage.
The Government must also shelve its plans to cut Universal Credit and hike council tax bills which will have the greatest impact on those on low incomes.
Now is the time to show our gratitude to the people who have helped us get through the past 12 months and recognise the true value of the work of those who have been taken for granted for far too long.
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