Crises rarely come as telegraphed as our current cost of living crisis. A series of shocks to the price of commodities; a huge hike in the price of energy; and a series of tax increases (claimed to be necessary to rebuild NHS capacity post-COVID) are starting to hit the UK.
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Natural justice would ordain that health and social care professionals were due a break, after two years of coping with a pandemic, but no such luck. With inflation running at around 6%, the 3% pay award for NHS staff becomes objectively a pay cut. Equally rising costs at the petrol pumps and static fuel allowances have led to nurses in the community funding their rounds out of their own pockets, as the RCN’s national officer Brian Morton tells us here.
At a time when the NHS is already facing a recruitment crisis, with over 100,000 vacancies, this is not the message that needs to be sent out.
But the effects will not stop there. Household income will be most significantly squeezed in the poorest households. Low-income think tank the Resolution Foundation has warned of an additional 1.3 million people being pushed into poverty, a key driver of poor health, with fuel poverty a particular concern.
In some parts of the UK, GPs can become part of ‘warmth on prescription’ schemes through which they refer patients to public health and housing services. But options are limited, only a root and branch analysis of the situation – and a more generous approach to NHS pay and benefits for the worst off – offers a solution. Can the heavily indebted UK economy afford it? It certainly can’t afford not to.