‘Fight hard for nursing – there’s more than a pay rise at stake’ | #students | #parents

Back in 1994, The KLF (a band perhaps best known for its hit What Time Is Love?) gathered together £1m in royalties, took the money to a small Scottish Island and burnt it.

They filmed the event; the whole thing took 67 minutes. Why did they do it? Well, take your pick: anything from art to politics to petulance. But burn it they did. And it caused quite a stir.

“Affordability is not the issue, and has never been. Values are the issue”

These days, we talk in billions don’t we? If only because we don’t know what a squillion or a gazillion is. A billion is a thousand million. HS2 for example, the new train line that will shave 28 minutes off your journey from London to Birmingham, will cost somewhere between £88bn and £107bn. And the budget for the government’s Test and Trace contract was £37bn.

It is hard to imagine £37bn isn’t it? Well, by way of perspective, if you wanted to mirror The KLF and burn it, it would take you 4.7 years. You could give birth and see your child through nursery and into primary school in the time it would take to burn what the government allocated to a former telephone sales executive to not run a test-and-trace service very well. Credit to Dido Harding and her friends for aiming to waste it in a mere two years, eh?

I mention this, of course, against a backdrop of a proposed 1% pay rise for nurses and the nonsense about economic affordability that spills out of government. Affordability is not the issue, and has never been. Values are the issue.

There are rumours circulating that the government may come back to the nurses with an improved offer so, by the time you read this, it may be 2%. Or 2.5%. Or a one-off cash thank-you of £1,000, some chocolates and 200 Nectar points.

Whatever. It is the equivalent of an indifferent man buying flowers from the garage on his way home to his wife on her birthday – it’s not so much that he forgot to get her anything before or that he doesn’t appreciate how she makes his life easier, it’s more that he is pretty sure she will be there tomorrow regardless, because it would be too hard for her to be anywhere else and she loves the kids too much to make their life difficult. Hell, given the reality of things, the flowers – like the pay rise – are a bonus; why aren’t people more grateful?

Maybe – in terms of calculating how best to serve their interests – the government is right? Yes, there’s talk of strike action but when the Royal College of Nursing talks about striking, it feels a bit like Princess Anne threatening to do kung fu: she has an idea what it is but she is not really equipped to pull it off.

Will nurses leave the profession in even more troubling numbers? Maybe. But, unless they are retiring, what work can they go to? And with student applications increasing again with the reintroduction of the bursary, along with the sense of meaningful work nursing has offered the young during the pandemic, perhaps government is making a calculated risk that amounts to: “Yes, this is rubbish. But we think we’ll get away with it because what choice do you have?”

Politically speaking, it is manipulative and disrespectful. Economically speaking, a proper pay rise wouldn’t make very much difference (see HS2 and Test and Trace, above).

Philosophically speaking, it reinforces the idea that nursing is – despite all the evidence of the last year – at best peripheral and, at worst, disposable. I hope you fight.

Creatively, consistently, aggressively and coherently. It may take time but nurses can win if nursing fights properly. And if you win, they won’t try it again.

Mark Radcliffe is author of Superpowers, a collection of short stories

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