Low-income NHS staff paying the price for wage delays

Staff earning least in the NHS are losing access to schemes to reduce or spread their costs

Government delays on NHS pay have resulted in thousands of the lowest-paid health workers being removed from financial schemes aimed at making their travel to work and childcare bills more affordable, says UNISON today (Tuesday).

With the lowest hourly rate in the NHS now just a penny more than the national minimum wage*, the union says trust managers are having to curtail membership of so-called salary sacrifice schemes for many staff.

This is because many workers’ hourly rates fall below the legal minimum when money is removed from pay packets and put towards the cost of, for example, cycle-to-work schemes, nursery vouchers or hospital parking permits.

NHS staff were due a pay rise three months ago, says UNISON. But the government’s failure to deliver this annual wage increase on time has left hospital managers with no option but to withdraw membership of the schemes, for fear of breaking UK wage laws.

This means, says UNISON, that many porters, healthcare assistants, cleaners and 999 call handlers can no longer access support schemes they’ve used for years to help spread or bring down the cost of their spending.

Yet these work-related benefits are still available to higher-paid colleagues, leaving those least well-off taking a severe financial hit, the union says.

UNISON says the situation could have been avoided had the government given all NHS workers a pay rise on 1 April.

The union is calling on NHS employers to do all they can to find ways around the problem and help affected staff. Some health trusts have found ways to increase employees’ salaries locally to avoid problems, or have waived fees. Others are losing staff as they quit for higher paid jobs outside the NHS, says UNISON.

UNISON head of health Helga Pile said: “No worker should miss out on schemes put in place to help them financially. This is especially key in the NHS, which is already many thousands of staff short.

“Not only are low-paid but essential health workers missing out on benefits that come with the job, they’re now going to be forking out even more on childcare, season tickets and parking.

“To make matters worse, this could have been avoided had the government done the right thing and agreed a decent pay rise on time. Staff deserve far better. So do patients and the millions of people awaiting the start of their treatment.

“Improving pay across the NHS must be high up the list for the next government. Put simply this is because better pay will help stop health workers leaving their jobs for more lucrative roles elsewhere. It will also attract more people to work in the NHS. Both are crucial if waits and delays are ever to diminish.

“Until then NHS trusts must do all they can to lessen the hardship for those on the lowest wage rates and now paying a heavy price.”

Notes to editors:
-*Workers at the bottom of the NHS Agenda for Change band 2 salary scale earn £11.45 an hour in England and Northern Ireland. (In Scotland and Wales the bottom of the pay scale is higher). The national minimum wage for those aged 21 and over is £11.44.
– Comments from case studies:
Wendy, a healthcare assistant, said: “These perks are supposed to help workers but band 2 staff aren’t able to access them. It really adds to the sense of feeling undervalued. I don’t see why free parking permits can’t be introduced for staff who are in this position.”
Leanne, another band 2 healthcare assistant said: “I’m no longer parking on site when I go to work because of these changes. I often feel quite unsafe when walking back to my car after a late shift. My car’s actually suffered damage as a result of no longer parking in the hospital car park.
– UNISON is also campaigning for band 2 staff who carry out band 3 clinical responsibilities to be rebanded and receive back pay to compensate them for work already completed. The campaign is called Pay Fair For Patient Care. More can be found here.
– UNISON is the UK’s largest union with more than 1.3 million members providing public services in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy. They are employed in the public, voluntary and private sectors.

Media contacts:
Anthony Barnes M: 07834 864794 E: a.barnes@unison.co.uk
Liz Chinchen M: 07778 158175 E: press@unison.co.uk