I am pleased to speak in this Opposition day debate on the public sector pay cap. I was elected as a Labour MP for Lincoln on a fully costed manifesto, and I am proud to be a member of the shadow Treasury team.
Our NHS is chronically understaffed, and there are not enough nurses, doctors, midwives, healthcare support workers, housekeepers, occupational therapists or physios—I could go on and on. Taking a leaf out of Jeremy’s book, I spoke to some of my colleagues. I spoke to Rachel, a senior occupational therapist. OTs focus on how to support and enable people to live well at home. They empower people to be as independent as possible and to access jobs and education. We simply do not have enough OTs in our hospitals, which might be a clue as to why we have such long waiting lists for social care assessments and why we have delayed discharges.
I also spoke to Sue and Maz, who are both healthcare support workers. They wash our patients, take them to the toilet and give them back their dignity when they feel at their lowest ebb, and much, much more. Nurses cannot deliver holistic patient care without the support of a healthcare support worker. Maz told me that her family have had to cut back considerably because her wages have not gone up with the cost of living. She is on leave in a couple of weeks, and she will be working bank shifts to pay for basic household items that she cannot afford out of her regular wages. Her son is at university, and he gets a grant because the family are on a low income despite both Maz and her husband having jobs. Her son’s grant is not enough, so he is working part time alongside his studies. Next year, Maz and her husband will have to help to support him so that he can cut back on the hours he works so that he is able to study more in his final year at uni.
Another healthcare support worker, Sue, with whom I worked for 12 years, told me that she has had to cut back on her spending every single day. After working for the NHS for 20 years, her hourly rate is £1.75 above the current legal minimum wage. Again, both she and her husband have jobs and cannot make ends meet.
Gail is a housekeeper, and she told me that she has to work extra bank shifts just to make ends meet. She has not had a holiday since 2009 and, after paying her bills, she has £20 left each month. She has to do bank shifts if she wants to buy anything for her grandchildren or take them out. Again, she and her husband both have jobs.
Those women, like me, are in their 50s and will not be able to retire until they are 67. The one thing that they all told me is that they love their job. They love the patients and the people they work with, and they would not do anything else. I used to be part of that team, and I know that nurses feel the same. The trouble is that this Government have taken advantage of that hard work and loyalty for far too long, and some people just cannot afford to stay in the NHS. People cannot afford to train without a bursary, let alone stay in the NHS. To quote Gail:
“You can earn more…at Lidl than I get.”
The Government simply must pay all public sector workers what they are worth and what they deserve. They must reinstate bursaries—