Star comment: We must be realistic when discussing NHS pay rise

How much is saving lives during a deadly pandemic worth?

Is the three per cent NHS pay rise enough?
Is the three per cent NHS pay rise enough?

A clap on the doorstep showed our appreciation to the NHS staff who have toiled through the crisis and have returned home each day exhausted by the workload and the trauma.

The clap cost the clappers nothing, and it paid no bills for the doctors and nurses. It was a thank you and a recognition.

After the clap, time to reach into our pockets, and translating the gratitude of a nation into a suitable pay rise has turned out to be more problematic.

One per cent was seen less of a pay rise than as a derisory slap in the face. That is now being upped to three per cent which isn't perfect, but it is fair when weighed against the lot of other workers.

Now is not the time for health unions to be talking about strike action. Teachers face a pay freeze, as do many other public sector workers. Many in the private sector will get nothing or have even seen pay cuts. Many have lost their jobs.

We face a challenging future with the economy hopefully bouncing back and with it inflation rising. That will see many of us falling behind the cost of living. We can hope for strength in the near future in the economy and of more boom times.

But we must all be realistic about the pressures being placed on both the public purse and the pressure on the private sector.

There will be great public and political sympathy for NHS staff who deserve a reward for being on the front line in the worst public health crisis in Britain for 100 years. There are calls to pay them more. The Royal College of Nursing wants it to be a 12.5 per cent pay increase.

During the handling of the pandemic there has arisen the concept of there being one rule for "them" and one rule for "us" – different people being treated differently. So while few would begrudge NHS workers a pay rise, if it were a lot more than other workers could hope to receive – and, as taxpayers, would be funding to boot – their special treatment would move them towards the "them" category.

As in so many things, there is a difficult balance to be struck.

By global standards Britain is a wealthy nation.

You can see the “haves” everywhere. They have well-paid jobs, nice cars, nice homes, and nice lifestyles.

There are “have-nots” everywhere as well, and if you don’t see them, maybe you are not looking.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which is independent and works to tackle poverty, is warning that plans to cut Universal Credit will send over 500,000 more people, including 200,000 children, into poverty.

Its figures show how families are struggling and when the move comes in will find a bad situation gets significantly worse. The TUC is warning of a heavy impact on low-paid workers.

It cannot be right that we are a society in which some working families are still having to rely on food banks.

People who are willing to work should be rewarded and encouraged to better themselves. This report makes depressing reading and suggests there are millions who work hard but still cannot make ends meet.

Opinions will differ on what is the right way to tackle the problem. A good way to start is acknowledging there’s a problem in the first place.

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