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Hunt’s attack on NHS pay is provocative, unfair and insulting

nurseHunt’s excuse for trying to block the 1% pay increase (when inflation is running at 3%) for 1.3 million NHS workers, due in April next year, doesn’t add up. He says it would cost £0.5bn and the incremental payments which have always been paid annually, which Hunt is also trying to end, would cost £0.7bn, and he argues that this is unaffordable. What is remarkable is that Hunt is taking a deliberately provocative stance which goes well beyond that of his gauleiter, Osborne, who has previously declared that the increase is affordable.

Even leaving that aside, Hunt’s case is untenable when the government is currently adopting a whole raft of measures with careless abandon which cost vastly more that the NHS sum at issue. Thus Osborne in his speech to the Tory conference last week hurriedly announced (as a last-minute effort to counter the popularity of Ed Miliband’s conference proposals) a married couple’s allowance and a freeze on fuel duty. That will cost over £2bn, far more than is necessary to pay NHS staff their minimalist due.

Even more insulting, in order to privatise Royal Mail, the government which is supposed to be trying to reduce its debt has gratuitously taken on to its books the £12bn Royal Mail pension fund deficit as well as selling the public service at well below the market price. That means if the share price hits 450p, the government is deliberately foregoing about £1.2bn (the difference between the maximum £3.3bn value put on by the government and the likely value the market would place on it of £4.5bn).

As it happens, that is exactly the sum which would pay NHS staff their increase which would anyway still not compensate them for the extra pressure of work put on them by the big cuts in NHS funding. Nor would it deal with a situation where NHS personnel have been forced to take a real terms 12% cut in their pay in recent years, while senior managers have enjoyed a pay increase of 13% since 2009. Yet even that minute pay increase is now being stolen away from them by Hunt.

Even more flagrant is the £130bn which Osborne is now bringing on stream to fund his Help to Buy scheme which is widely predicted to be generating, not sustainable growth, but yet another housing bubble. Osborne is even bringing forward to this week the stage 2 of this ill-fated scheme in order to kickstart growth at any cost. Obviously paying NHS staff even a shadow of a fair wage is for Osborne a bridge much too far, though spending a hundred times more can be readily afforded if it creates even a sliver of a chance of winning the next election.

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