I rise to speak on behalf of the 434 residents in the Pontypridd constituency who have signed the petitions relating to the recognition and reward of health and social care workers. It is clear that the creation of the NHS is undoubtedly the Labour party’s greatest ever achievement and one which I will always personally champion. I hope colleagues on all Benches will indulge me as I also use today’s debate to celebrate the 20th birthday of NHS Direct Wales, which is taking place this week.
It is all too easy to reduce the NHS workforce to doctors and nurses, but given that there are around 400 different job roles in our NHS, it is important that all NHS staff are given the credit they deserve for their incredible work all year round. Among many others, the porters, cleaners, caterers, healthcare assistants, allied health professionals and the many invaluable volunteers who give up their free time truly are the unsung heroes of our NHS. The coronavirus pandemic has provided a unique opportunity to truly show our thanks and appreciation. Call me old-fashioned, but I am not sure that a handclap or a medal quite cuts it. I wonder whether the Minister would be satisfied with a handclap or a pat on the back instead of receiving her additional ministerial salary—something tells me the answer is no.
Naturally, as a proud Welsh valleys woman, it would be wrong—rude, even—for me not to take the opportunity today to highlight how different things are across the border thanks to the fantastic Welsh Labour Government. As my hon. Friend Gerald Jones said, the Welsh Labour Government are leading the way in the response to the coronavirus pandemic. They say that where Wales leads, England follows, and I am more than inclined to agree.
Thanks to the Welsh Labour Government, social care and domiciliary care workers in Wales, including agency workers, and support staff in care homes such as kitchen workers and cleaners will soon receive a diolch or thank-you payment of up to £500—a payment that will be available to 64,600 care home workers and domiciliary care workers throughout Wales. That comes after the Welsh Labour Government have already pledged to commit an incredible £40 million of extra funding for adult social care services, to help meet the extra costs associated with the response to the pandemic.
Clearly, that payment is a reward in recognition of the unprecedented circumstances and strain that have been placed on all our NHS staff across the Union, from Pontypridd in south Wales to Perth in Scotland. It is even clearer to me that this payment should be exempt from income tax and national insurance contributions—something that the Welsh Labour First Minister and colleagues in the House have been calling for. So far, Her Majesty’s Treasury has point-blank refused—talk about a kick in the teeth for workers who have literally put their lives on the line to keep us all safe. NHS workers in Pontypridd and throughout Wales deserve better.
Colleagues will be aware that, thanks to another fantastic Labour-led campaign, the Prime Minister was forced to U-turn again this week. He is running in circles. If the Minister needs any information on Wales and how we can best tackle the coronavirus pandemic, I am more than happy to offer my services; she knows where to find me. I hope that where Wales leads, England will follow.