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NHS and other key workers face year of poor pay, TUC warns

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NHS and other key workers face year of poor pay, TUC warns
The TUC said another year of falling real wages would be a 'hammer blow to morale' for key workers in the public sector including the NHS. Photo: Vuk Valcic/SOPA Images/Sipa USA

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) has warned that NHS staff and other key workers face another year of poor pay.

Median pay in the public sector fell by 2.3% in real terms in November — the equivalent of £60 a month, according to new analysis from the TUC.

Separate analysis by the union found that many key workers are still earning thousands of pounds a year less in real terms than in 2010 — nurses’ real wages are down more than £2,700 per year and local government care workers are down more than £1,600 a year.

Public sector workers will feel the squeeze even more keenly as inflation continues to rise. The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed that inflation jumped to the highest level in 30 years, reaching 5.4% in December.

Price rises have hit household essentials with electricity up 18.8% in a year, gas up 28.8%, and petrol prices rising 27.8%. The cost of food is up 4.5% in a year.

Over the next few months, inflation is forecast to rise to at least 6% overall — and possibly as much as 7%, according to Hargreaves Lansdown (HL.L). Britain’s cost of living squeeze will also continue to get tighter over the coming months, particularly when energy bills jump in April, and the chancellor’s tax rises come into effect, including the national insurance rise in April.

Read more: Higher bills and savings: how to budget for price rises

The TUC warned that "many public sector key workers are at breaking point".

"A toxic mix of stagnating wages, excessive workloads, and a lack of recognition is deepening the staffing crisis in the NHS and other public services and forcing dedicated staff to quit their jobs," the union body said.

The TUC is calling on the government to take "urgent action" to fix public sector pay and prioritise key worker pay in 2022.

The union body wants the government to ensure all public service workers get a "decent" pay rise, through fully independent pay review bodies or collective bargaining. The Treasury should also ease restrictions on pay policy and properly fund departmental spending, the TUC said.

The TUC is calling for the national minimum wage to be lifted to at least £10 per hour and for more funding for the public sector so that all outsourced workers are paid at least the real living wage, or get pay parity with directly-employed staff doing the same job.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Hard work should pay for everyone. But millions of key workers — on the frontline of the pandemic — face another year of wages gloom. That is not right.

Read more: UK households face big squeeze and mounting debt in 2022

“The government must stop burying its head and get pay rising across the economy. Ministers cannot abandon families during this cost-of-living crisis.

“Our public service workers need a decent pay rise — especially after more than a decade of lost pay.

“And we need a proper plan to tackle staff shortages across the public sector. Failure to act will be a hammer blow to morale at a time when many key workers feel exhausted and burnout.”

Watch: What is inflation and why is it important?

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