Ministers plan to raise national insurance contributions by 1.25 percentage points in April to help the NHS recover from the pandemic, with vague plans to roll out social care reforms too in later years.
But the rise – which breaks Tory manifesto pledges – will cut into the pay boost for the health service’s nurses, care staff and paramedics by hundreds of pounds.
The Westminster government sparked anger earlier in the year for its paltry pay offering to NHS workers in England and Wales. In January, ministers said a rise of just one per cent would be affordable before upping their promise to three per cent, which would result in a real-terms cut once inflation is taken into account.
Industry bodies have overwhelmingly rejected the offer, including the Royal College of Nursing, which previously called for a 12.5 per cent pay increase.
In Holyrood, the Scottish government said it would increase healthcare pay by four per cent.
“There are billionaires who have increased their profits during this pandemic,” said Anthony Johnson, lead organiser for grassroots group Nurses United UK. “They’ve done so by closing down our retail stores and used a global pandemic to make a profit off of our misery.
“What a surprise that this government, funded by those billionaires, is deciding to invest in more privatisation and is making frontline NHS workers and the rest of us pay for it.
“This is not a recipe for more staff, they need restorative pay rises to bring our NHS back to safety, not more pay cuts.”
For an NHS worker in Scotland earning £26,104, the increase in national insurance payments will nullify 20.6 per cent of their four per cent pay rise.
A frontline NHS nurse in England could pay nearly £300 in a year’s extra contributions, even after the real-terms pay cut and alongside soaring living costs.
Now MSPs are calling on central government to scrap the “regressive” national insurance rise.
“The Tory plans to hike national insurance will take a significant chunk of that money out of the pockets of hard-working nurses and use it to pay for England’s social care problem, demonstrating how regressive their national insurance increase is for those on lower incomes,” said Emma Harper, MSP for South Scotland.
Between the national insurance rise and plans to cut universal credit by £20 per week at the end of this month, the Conservatives have “clearly demonstrated they will build the recovery on the backs of those who can least afford it,” she added.
Ian Blackford, the SNP leader in Westminster, confronted Boris Johnson at Prime Minister’s Questions about how the rise would affect healthcare staff.
“Actually, what’s happening is that we’re funding the NHS across the whole of the UK – including in Scotland – I’m proud to say with record sums,” Johnson said.
“We’ve ensured that nurses have had access to a training bursary worth £5,000, a further bursary for £3,000 for childcare costs. That is before we put up pay by three per cent.
“That is only possible because of the package that we’re putting forward for health and social care,” he added.