I begin by thanking every single health and care worker in my constituency of Coventry South. They have gone over and beyond to keep us safe and healthy. I know that I speak on behalf of all of Coventry when I say thank you. They have faced this crisis with incredible strength, selflessness and determination. At its height, millions of people across the country went out every Thursday to clap for health and care workers. Now it is our responsibility to match that appreciation with meaningful action— with NHS staff and carers getting the real pay rise and recognition that they so richly deserve.
The simple truth is that NHS staff and carers have been failed for far too long. Since 2010, newly qualified nurses have faced an 8% pay cut. Half of frontline carers are paid less than the minimum wage and years of devastating cuts to the NHS and neglect of care work have left us all more vulnerable to a pandemic. We saw that with the PPE shortages in hospitals when the crisis hit. We saw that when doctors and nurses repeatedly —desperately—asked for testing, only to be told that there was not capacity. We saw it again with black and ethnic minority NHS workers killed by coronavirus at a disproportionately higher rate, exposing the inequalities that lie at the heart of our society.
Let me go through some of the experiences that my constituents who work in our health and care system have told me of. There are migrants who work on the frontline, but have been hit by the hostile environment and burdened with visa fees and health surcharges. There are NHS staff who, until recently, were forced to pay obscene parking charges at University Hospital Coventry—in some cases, almost £500 a year. These charges are exploitatively set by private companies that are making profits on the back of our workers.
There are nurses robbed of NHS bursaries, leading to a 32% decrease in nursing applicants nationwide. Now we have an overstretched and overworked workforce, with more than 7,500 nursing vacancies in the midlands alone, which has been called a “full-blown crisis” by the Royal College of Nursing. Then there are the A&E workers, who face a mental health crisis, with one of my constituents describing their work as heart-breaking and soul-destroying, and their work environment as a war zone.
Those are just some of the wrongs done to the NHS and care workers in my constituency. I urge the Government, who clapped for them through this crisis, to match that with action: give our carers, nurses, porters and cleaners a real pay rise; end poverty wages in the NHS and care work; ensure that they are all on good contracts with no more precarious work; give indefinite leave to remain to all migrant workers; and restore the NHS to a truly public service, free from privatisation and run for the public good, not private profit.