A missed opportunity

By Sean O'Sullivan, RCM Head of Health and Social Policy on 03 March 2021 Maternity Services Politics

Budgets are about choices and priorities. Rishi Sunak could have chosen today’s Budget to outline an ambitious and far-reaching plan to stimulate economic recovery, reward key workers and rebuild our public services. Surely now was the time for the Chancellor to prioritise fairness before ideology, to demonstrate his Government’s commitment to tackle pay injustice and to build back better?

In the event, he has chosen to do none of the above. Despite speaking for almost an hour, the Chancellor had nothing to say to the frontline health and care staff who have put their lives on the line, day in and day out, who have performed heroically despite increased workloads, staff shortages and inadequate PPE. There will be a pay rise for NHS staff. The Government has already made that clear. But today provided a great opportunity for the Chancellor to confirm not only that the pay rise was coming, but that it would be significant and that it would be fully funded. It is a great shame that he missed the chance to do this. So we must all continue to push for a significant pay rise for NHS staff – and the money to back it up.

He could also have done the right thing by committing to scrapping the pay freeze for other key workers. Instead, like the priest in the parable of the good Samaritan, he has chosen to pass by on the other side. Worse than that, the effect of the freezing of personal tax allowances for the next five years is a stealth tax that will hit members in their pockets.

With a shortage of 3,000 midwives in England, the Chancellor could have announced a boost to NHS spending, including more funding for midwifery staffing budgets and for better care for women and families. Sadly, other than a welcome injection of additional monies for the vaccination roll-out, there was nothing in the Chancellor’s speech or the Treasury Red Book to suggest that the NHS or maternity services are a priority for this Government.

There is no doubt that in the wake of the pandemic and the aftermath of Brexit, with the worst economic figures for decades and the highest borrowing figures outside of wartime, the Government had difficult choices to make. This in a sense made it all the more imperative that the Government delivered a transformative budget that laid the foundations for a sustained and equitable recovery. What we need was an ambitious plan, long term investment, action to tackle injustice and inequality and incentives to reward public service. What we got from this Chancellor was business as usual, quick fixes, pay freezes and underinvestment. When what we needed was hope for the future, Rishi Sunak has dished up more of the same – and a missed opportunity.