Ministers can – and must – give nurses a fair pay rise

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Polly Toynbee is correct to criticise government ministers for falsely claiming their hands are tied on public sector salaries by supposedly independent pay review bodies (Who do you believe: the brilliant NHS staff who treated my cancer, or ministers who spin and lie? 14 December).

In December 2021, the Treasury’s economic evidence to the review bodies stated that inflation was expected to peak around 4% in 2022, and that inflation would return to the 2% target. It said that private sector employers were anticipating awards of 2.5% in the 12 months to August 2022. It also said that recruitment and retention data in the public sector presented a generally positive picture and that these issues in the private sector had not necessarily translated into economy-wide wage increases.

As we now know, inflation is above 10%, and private sector earnings growth stands at 7%. There are widespread labour shortages and vacancies in both the private and public sectors, particularly in the NHS.

The government should be forced to reopen pay bargaining in the public sector for 2022 awards, given that their complacent and misleading economic forecasts have been proven to be so wrong, and when they seek to hide behind “independent” pay review bodies they should be challenged.
Alastair Hatchett
University of Greenwich

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Polly Toynbee is correct to say that pay review bodies (PRBs) do not set pay. I was appointed to the armed forces PRB in 1987 as an “employer representative”. In coming to our recommendations, we had to take account of many factors such as the state of recruitment, comparison with civilian occupations, the state of the economy and what the government was likely to accept. It was the prime minister who decided whether to accept our recommendations or to vary them.
Peter Ball

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The government’s insistence that it is bound by the NHS pay review body would be laughable if it weren’t so tragic. For more than a decade the government has ignored official bodies’ recommendations on public sector pay, usually claiming the proposed increases were unaffordable. The exception is MPs’ salary recommendations, which are generally implemented in full. Nurses’ pay has fallen by 20% in real terms over the last decade, as has the pay of most public sector workers.
Jeff Brice
Newcastle upon Tyne

Your report on the nurses’ strike highlights the progressive depletion of pay and conditions for the last decade. This is countered by claims from government ministers that nurses have been offered a 4% pay rise on average while the rest of the public sector had a pay freeze. Perhaps someone should remind them that MPs received a pay increase of £2,200 last April. Who pays their salaries?
Laurence Jackson
Marple, Greater Manchester

There are, according to the most recent data, 39,652 nursing vacancies in the NHS. The average salary for a nurse is £34,000. Presumably the NHS budgets for a full quota, which suggests that there is at least £1.35bn unspent for this year alone. When previous years’ shortfalls are taken into account, it is difficult to argue that there is no money. The shortfall is 10% of the workforce; if converted to money, it is within the negotiable range of the RCN. The government must do more to reach a settlement.
Alan Innes
Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex

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