Tens of thousands of NHS workers are struggling to get by on the minimum wage because their private sector employers are failing to match public sector pay rises.
The estimated 100,000 low-paid cleaners, porters, security guards and catering staff who work for private contractors in hospitals across England are being treated as “second-class employees”, thanks to a growing pay divide between public and private sector workers, according to the country’s leading health union.
Concerns about the pay gap come ahead of tax and benefit changes in the new tax year, starting this weekend, which have fuelled fears of widening inequality, despite claims by the government that the era of austerity is over.
In today’s Observer, Torsten Bell, director of the Resolution Foundation, said that “adding up all the new tax and benefit changes for the year equals an average £280 income boost for the richest fifth of households, but a £100 reduction for the poorest fifth.
“This year’s income tax cuts are bumper ones for higher earners. If you earn £30,000 you’ll be £73 better off, but make that £327 for those of you on £60,000 – over four times as much. Our lowest 40% of earners will gain precisely zero,” Bell adds.
Last year, as part of a three-year deal negotiated by health unions, the lowest-paid workers in the NHS were given a £2,000 pay rise. But the overwhelming majority of health staff employed on private contracts have not received a penny, Unison says.
The union has called on the government to end the pay divide, which it claims is causing outsourced staff to leave in search of better-paid jobs.
The union wants everyone employed within the NHS to be on at least £9.03 an hour. Currently, Unison says, many staff employed by private contractors are on the minimum wage, which is £8.21, equating to an annual salary of £16,052, or £1,600 a year less than what the lowest-paid worker in the public sector is paid.