NHS workers offered lump sum and 5% pay rise by UK government

The government has offered NHS workers in England a one-off payment equivalent to 6 per cent of their wages for this financial year and a rise close to 5 per cent for 2023-24, in an attempt to end a damaging series of strikes, people close to the negotiations said.

Health unions are consulting members to decide whether the offer is good enough for them to recommend it and call off strikes scheduled for next week, with an announcement expected later on Thursday.

The pay offer would benefit nurses, ambulance staff and many other NHS workers who have been taking industrial action since December in protest at below-inflation pay deals.

The amount offered by the government for this year falls far short of unions’ initial demands for pay rises.

The Royal College of Nursing began by asking for 5 per cent above retail price inflation, which stood at 13.4 per cent in January. Other unions, including Unison and the GMB, wanted pay rises to at least match inflation.

However, should NHS pay increase by about 5 per cent in 2023-24, workers would make up at least some of the ground they lost this year, if the Office for Budget Responsibility proves correct in its latest forecast that inflation will fall to 2.9 per cent by the end of this year.

The offer for 2022-23 is made up of a 2 per cent non-consolidated pay rise and a 4 per cent bonus ostensibly meant to recognise workers’ role in the health service’s recovery from the Covid-19 emergency.

A deal would end one of the most damaging of the many pay disputes that have led to strike action across the UK public sector in recent months.

Strikes by nurses, ambulance workers and other NHS staff have led to the cancellation of tens of thousands of hospital operations and appointments at a time when the health service is severely overstretched.

Last month, the RCN agreed to suspend action to enter into talks with the government, followed this month by Unison, GMB and Unite.

However, there is no sign of progress yet in a separate pay dispute with junior doctors belonging to the British Medical Association and the smaller Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association.

Doctors are currently on the third day of their own 72 hours of industrial action and have so far declined to enter talks with health secretary Steve Barclay, saying they cannot accept his preconditions.

It is not yet clear how the government plans to fund the NHS offer, as chancellor Jeremy Hunt did not announce any new money for public sector pay in Wednesday’s Budget. This implied that any new offer would need to be met from within existing government departmental budgets.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies, a think-tank, said on Thursday that if ministers wanted to match private sector pay growth estimated at 4.5 per cent to 5.5 per cent across the public sector in the next financial year, it would add an extra £2.5 to £5bn to the government’s wages bill.

A one-off bonus for 2022-23 could potentially be funded by extra government borrowing or by dipping into the Treasury’s reserves, which it holds for unforeseen expenses.

But Ben Zaranko, an IFS researcher, said that if Hunt did provide new cash for a permanent pay rise, it could “tip him over into missing his fiscal rules”.

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