Why improving pay has never been more important with the rising cost of living

By Alice Sorby, Director, Employment Relations Midwives NHS Pay NHS Pay Review Body Pay and Agenda For Change

It probably feels like Groundhog Day, but the issue of your pay is never far away at the RCM. In the last blog I wrote, we had just submitted our written evidence to the NHS Pay Review Body (PRB) (you can read that here). I’d like to be able to give you an update on progress -  but honestly, in terms of knowing when it will be paid and how much the pay rise will be, we aren’t much further forward.

What we do know is that the RCM along with 13 other NHS trade unions are campaigning together for an inflation-busting restorative pay rise that absorbs the impact of rising costs. We are also telling the Government that there is no need to wait for the PRB, we want to see an urgent retention package put in place. That includes ensuring that:

  • excess hours are limited to prevent burnout – and where midwives and MSWs do work additional hours making sure they are rewarded fairly,
  • that the new flexible working provisions are made a reality for midwives and MSWs,
  • career progression and development are supported,
  • pay banding outcomes must reflect job content, and
  • recruitment and retention premia (RRPs) should be used to target posts and areas with the greatest shortages.

Whenever I speak to RCM members at branch meetings, people are shattered, because the shortage of midwives increases pressure and workload. We absolutely must make the NHS a place where midwives and MSWs want to stay. Our latest analysis of official NHS workforce figures in England shows that midwife numbers dropped by 331 whole time equivalent midwives in the year to November 2021. With these sorts of numbers leaving, the current shortage is set to worsen.

Fair pay is not only a really good way to show that NHS staff are valued – don’t forget that 92% of RCM members who responded to our survey last year said that being a midwife or MSW is not valued by the Government - it is also absolutely critical as the cost of living crisis hits all our pockets. It’s a phrase that is often bandied about at the moment but it isn’t just a soundbite, it’s people’s real lives. Energy bills set to increase by around £693 a year (a 54% increase)[1], to the planned National Insurance increase is set to cost the average worker £250 a year[2] and the cost of filling up an average car with fuel costing £89.90p on average, up from £68.57 a year ago[3]. The cost of fuel we know is of particular concern to RCM members working in the community using their car for work purposes. We hear you and are raising our concerns with employers and the Government locally and nationally – including calling for immediate action to be taken around mileage rates.

We were almost into March when the Department of Health and Social Care finally published its evidence to the PRB – like last year, late again!. Within that evidence was the proposal of 'an overall affordable headline pay award of up to 3%'. Let’s be clear: 3% wasn’t enough last year and it isn’t enough this year, but we have to wait and see what the recommendation from the PRB is. The RCM will present further evidence at our oral evidence session soon and we will continue to keep up the pressure not only for a fair pay rise but to implement the urgent retention package we are calling for.

There are lots of opportunities for you to get involved in the RCM’s #DeliveraDecentDeal campaign and the joint union campaign #WithNHSStaff. On 1 April when the pay rise is due as part of #WithNHSStaff we are asking local staff-sides to work together to hold local events, campaign packs will be available soon. The RCM will also be hosting a series of virtual pay meetings across the UK where you will be able to ask any questions you have and hear all about how you can get more involved in the campaign – hopefully see you there!

[1] Why are gas bills so high and what's the energy price cap? - BBC News

[2] Delaying National Insurance rise would be 'no problem' - BBC News

[3] Petrol prices set to ease after hitting record highs - BBC News