I am very rarely accused of modesty, so I shall certainly take that compliment. I did have one occasion to act as midwife when our daughter arrived slightly more quickly than expected. As I said to her godmother, my hon. Friend Vicky Foxcroft, it is not something that I intend to repeat, and I certainly would not recommend it to the untrained.
It was in tribute to my own family’s NHS pedigree, but most importantly out of necessity to properly value the nurses and midwives of today, that I tabled an early-day motion to end the public sector pay cap in the NHS. I thank the 67 hon. Members from every Opposition party—and indeed from the Government party on the Opposition side of the House, represented by Emma Little Pengelly—who signed the motion to scrap the cap. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend Jonathan Ashworth, who has relentlessly campaigned on the issue of fair pay for NHS staff, and who has brought this motion before the House today.
In my local NHS trust, St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, there are over 1,000 nurses who do a magnificent job caring for patients in often incredibly difficult circumstances. I am very proud that the trust has been recognised as the best NHS acute trust in England in the latest patient-led assessments, achieving top marks in the country in every area of inspection.
The context in which NHS staff are showing such dedication and commitment to providing high-quality care makes it all the more remarkable. As we have heard, while working hard to meet increasing demands, nurses have seen seven years’ worth of frozen or capped pay. The rate of inflation has exceeded the pay cap of 1% in five of those seven years. That means less money at the end of the month for nurses—a 14% pay cut in real terms since 2010, according to the Royal College of Nursing, which has campaigned with great tenacity and passion on this issue, alongside many other organisations, including my colleagues in Unison.
For seven long years, Ministers have refused to introduce a fair pay package for nurses that reflects the skill set and dedication in the profession. They ignored the clarion call for the pay cap to be scrapped—until last night. In an act of cynicism, knowing they faced defeat in the House today, Ministers appear to have suddenly changed their minds—not because the Conservative party suddenly believed the pay cap was wrong, but because the Government might lose a vote in Parliament. What a morally and intellectually bankrupt Government this is, and what a disgraceful way to treat NHS staff—as a tool for seven years of ideologically driven austerity, and now as a tool of political expediency.
The announcement that the pay cap is to be scrapped is long overdue. Anyone in this House who believes that it should go needs to vote with us tonight, if indeed the Government decide to divide the House. But it is not enough: we need to see action. Thousands of nurses and NHS staff will be waiting eagerly to see what the Government offer above 1%, and millions more people across the country will be waiting to see when this Government are finally going to end their cuts to our public services and start properly funding our NHS.