Blog: The best birthday or thank you gift is a pay rise, now

Thank you days for key workers and birthday celebrations – and even the George Cross for the NHS – are richly deserved, but what really matters is an increase in pay

general secretary Christina McAnea with UNISON members outside a London hospital

It’s been a busy few days of thank yous and celebrations for health and key workers, culminating in today’s national service of commemoration for the NHS at St Paul’s Cathedral in London.

UNISON is a partner of the Together Coalition which organised the Thank You Day at the weekend to celebrate the work of the NHS, key workers and everyone who has helped us through the pandemic.

Thank You Day was a good opportunity for everyone to show support for the dedication of health and care workers, council staff, teaching assistants, university workers and police support staff.

Each and every one of us owes public workers a massive debt of gratitude. NHS and care employees, council workers, teaching assistants, and police support staff are among the thousands on the front line who’ve kept this country going during COVID.

We in UNISON know this better than anyone else.

We will never forget the hundreds of health and care staff who’ve lost their lives by going above and beyond. Nor the many others who risked their own health and that of their families to keep the rest of us safe. There was no ring of steel protecting staff in care homes nor the vulnerable people they look after.

Support staff made sure schools remained open for the children of key workers, with teaching assistants stepping up to lead classes. Without their dedication, frontline workers would have been unable to save lives.

Communities carried on thanks to the lifelines offered by council workers. They delivered food and medical supplies to ensure no one in need was forgotten.

Police support staff were essential in keeping people safe despite facing verbal and even physical abuse, while university workers had to handle numerous COVID outbreaks among students and ensure teaching continued in other ways.

Public services have been taken for granted for far too long. It’s taken a global health crisis to recognise their worth. No words will ever be enough to express the thanks and appreciation they deserve.

But the best way to show appreciation for the health workers who’ve gone above and beyond is to give them a decent pay rise and soon. Providing support for staff to rest and recover is also essential.

Birthdays are all about giving. The prime minister should remember that and show how much the country cares.