BThe weather is facing the biggest hit to living standards ever after Jeremy Hunt announces big tax increases and spending cuts, heralding a new wave of austerity. Meanwhile, the public sector witnessed a decline in wage growth from that of the private sector at the highest rate ever.
The chancellor has offered an extra £3.3bn for the NHS and £2.3bn for schools a year and an increase in real terms for government departments, albeit at a slower rate. And here workers in those sectors react to his statement for the fall, indicating that the amounts are less than required to cover escalating costs and avoid strikes.
Alex, a 31-year-old emergency department nurse at a hospital in southwest England, was delighted to hear Hunt commit to increasing social care funding to ease hospital discharge issues. “We hope [mean] More hospital beds and less pressure on ambulances and emergency departments.”
The extra £3.3bn Hunt has announced for the NHS is less than half of what the £7bn bosses say it will require. “He didn’t say how it would be used or invested,” says Alex. Nor did he say how he planned to avoid it [nurses striking] Or how he planned to support the nurses so that he would leave this sense of uncertainty in the future.
Alex, a 6th Division nurse and member of the RCN, says she supports the union strike “because nurses are not getting paid enough for what we do… nurses every day are struggling – [especially] The five-band, those on the shop floor doing the hard work for the NHS, doing 12-hour shifts. They cannot afford to live. For what we have to deal with every day on shift, it’s just not right.
She says understaffing on the wards means nurses are overworked and face burnout. “The staff is getting worse and worse — when you first qualified you had as many as eight patients on the ward, now it’s up to 14. You don’t get breaks — I won’t drink or use the toilet until you get home,” she says.
“When I started there was a lot of support. Now many cannot continue in the profession and leave early due to exhaustion. We are saving lives and we don’t even get paid decently for all the hard work we do.”
David, a 30-year-old civil servant in Sheffield, has seen his savings depleted “to zero” due to inflation and the cost of living crisis, and believes Hunt’s budget will “make it worse”.
“Subsidizing the bills isn’t good enough, and the windfall tax on energy companies is pathetic given their massive profits,” he says. “A pause in planned increases in tax-free amounts is not welcome – when there are so many additional ways in which taxes could have been raised on higher earners without affecting everyone else.”
The 30-year-old says civil service salaries should rise in line with inflation. “The lower-than-inflationary pay increases in the civil service mean to me that things have become more expensive and the amount left over at the end of each month after I have paid my mortgage and loan payments has decreased.
“The only way for anyone to achieve a meaningful increase in their salary in the civil service is to get a promotion. However, for many, they are not interested or unable to take on the additional responsibility of promotion, which means that most junior classes find themselves earning less each year in real terms. “.
David hopes the strikes by the Confederation of Public Services and Business will get the government to take notice. Central government civil servants often forget where nurses and teachers make the news. They certainly deserve better salaries, but so do we. I’m hoping for a commitment to raise wages in line with inflation, and a one-time increase to make up for lost salary over the past decade. PCS is asking for more than that, but that’s the minimum we should expect.”
Nancy Bodler, 53, who taught at her secondary school in West Yorkshire for 26 years, says Hunt’s budget “is still not focused enough on education. Funding wage bonuses along with energy costs and inflation will make it very difficult to balance the books..”
Bedler supports the National Education Union’s strike. “I am a committed teacher who loves her school. I will not strike if it is not necessary… We have no choice if we wish to protect teachers, our schools and our pupils.”
She is clear that teacher bonuses should not come from school budgets. Schools face a number of competing factors, including rising energy costs and food inflation. You have to ask – we are not a for-profit organization, that the money comes from the students.”
She says using school cash to fund salary increases will make her unable to buy textbooks for the department she heads. “It is not fair and it is not right. The government is making a political choice not to fund our salaries.”
“I hope for the government-funded inflation-linked wage increases that will support teachers to stay in this increasingly challenging profession,” she says. “Private business talks about the high wages that attract the best in the field – how do they expect to get the best teachers and keep us in the field?”