Before I was an MP, I used to be a care worker. During the first lockdown, back in March last year, I returned to care work again. I saw first-hand some of the issues that key workers on the frontline were facing every day – even as my position as an MP protected me from the worst impacts.
Our key workers have kept this country going during the Covid-19 crisis. And any progress we’ve made at all has been because of them. Care workers like my former colleagues looking after people, including those with coronavirus. Teachers and school support staff educating our kids in the hardest circumstances. Civil servants, like in HMRC and the DWP, getting money to workers through the furlough scheme and handling the massive rise in Universal Credit claims. Local government and criminal justice workers keeping our streets clean, our communities safe and our courts running.
But far too many of them are undervalued and underpaid. Many care workers across the country are employed as agency staff or on zero hours contracts. They struggle to get by on a national minimum wage that doesn’t pay them enough to live on. And what’s true for care workers is also true for the many low-paid private sector workers in retail, logistics and transport who have played such a crucial role in the pandemic.
The Chancellor has frozen the pay of key workers outside the NHS in the public sector. The £250 award he’s tossed to lower earners is inadequate, amounting to just 68p a day. And the million outsourced workers who also provide public services are excluded.
While NHS staff have been promised a pay rise, will it be anywhere near enough to make up for lost earnings after a decade of pay cuts? A nurse today could be earning around £2,000 less per year in real terms than they did in 2010.
This is a despicable way to treat essential workers who have kept this country running and in many cases have risked their lives in the process. Ministers have clapped for these workers one night and cut their pay the next day.
That is why I’m joining thousands of activists and workers to call on the Chancellor to provide a fair pay rise for all key workers – private and public sector alike.
Tomorrow – Tuesday, February 9th – I’ll be hosting a mass organising call for the TUC, alongside the NEU’s Kevin Courtney. We’ll be gearing up to tell the Tories that we won’t accept poverty pay and wage freezes: it’s time for a pay rise for all our key workers.
And we need you. Join us. Sign up for the organising call at 6pm tomorrow, February 9th, at actionnetwork.org/events/winning-pay-rises-for-key-workers.