Opinion with Christine Tongue: A fair day’s pay?

Christine's view on the proposed pay rise for NHS workers

I got my first proper pay packet when I was seventeen, working in school summer holidays in the office of the MEB, the Midlands Electricity Board. To me “bored” would have been a more suitable description. Filing, filling in meter readings in triplicate and sending out forms to customers for unspecified reasons.

When the wages came round the other workers made a big deal out of me getting my first wages ever. I think it was about £4 (well, it was 1962). But I wasn’t pleased. I was weirdly ashamed and embarrassed. I’d spent a week hating bits of paper, watching the clock for 5.30 when we’d be released and vowing never to get an office job when my “real” life started.

It seemed wrong to get money for such worthless activity that I felt completely uncommitted to and couldn’t wait to get out of. Plus I felt guilty that I had saintly friends who had gone off at the same age to be junior nurses – at less pay than me.

But how should we measure the value of work? Do we pay people more for being bored to death, less because it’s low skilled work or much more because it’s saving lives or looking after vulnerable people?

How should we reward people in jobs we all agree should be done by people committed to doing them well, and on which our lives or the lives of our loved ones might depend?

Emptying bedpans, cleaning up blood and vomit, taking on the anger of confused sick people – you want people dealing with it who are valued by their community and aren’t going to walk out when it gets tough.

The government has offered nurses a 1% pay rise. Hurray! All other public sector workers have had a pay freeze. But only 1%? On average nurse’s pay that means around £3.50 per week – not enough for a nice M&S sandwich. I know because I spent a lot of time hanging around St Thomas’s hospital in London a couple of years ago waiting for fantastic medics to save the life of my partner and living on M&S sandwiches.


The nurses in Intensive Care were working thirteen hour days, managing complicated machinery and desperately ill patients, with cheerfulness and optimism. These same people have been flogging themselves for a year now caring for victims of the pandemic, catching the virus themselves and sometimes dying from it.

But it’s not just in intensive care that workers need to be committed, and have been stressed and overworked by the covid crisis. Everyone who works in the NHS or social care has been on the front line – as we all acknowledged when we went out on our doorsteps to clap them.

What happened to that supportive spirit? Are you going along with the  line that a healthcare job should be treated as mine was in the MEB – that it’s just a job that you plough your way through to the end of your shift and needs no commitment to quality or public spirit, you just do what you’re being paid for? And be glad you’ve got a steady job with a pension – as one member of the House of Lords said recently. He turned up presumably for his £300 daily allowance and a better lunch than an M&S sandwich, in order to say just that.

Billions have been spent on a failing track and trace system. Can’t we find a better use for those billions?

Shouldn’t we be paying people prepared to do extremely challenging and socially vital jobs as if they are the most valued members of our community?

You can’t pay people who spend their time saving lives or looking after the most vulnerable anything that equates to their social value, but you can at least pay them what they ask for.

Don’t trade on people’s commitment to pay them less.

Let’s pay the nurses whatever they think is fair!

Christine Tongue is a Broadstairs resident and former Labour Party member. She now does not belong to a political party but does represent disability campaign group Access Thanet


  1. I think it would be fair if they waited for those who have lost jobs or are on lower wages can get a pay rise, and when we as a nation can afford it. After all they have been on full pay during this pandemic.

  2. Lets give all essential workers a pay rise, why should pay for the Covid situation while billionaires are exempt from paying taxes. Any increase in wages boasts the economy as more money in the community via local shops otherwise we have more austerity that has put millions of people on the breadline in the last decade of tory misrule

    • Sleepy Barry is so delusional.

      He cries about “tory misrule” – yet he is Labour? That’s all that needs to be said. The fact that they was wiped out by Tories, says it all.

      Also does this include those whose wards were empty due to cancelled operations and had no work apart from their tiktok dances? How about all the ones who went off ‘sick’ to avoid working during the pandemic?

      Meanwhile in the real world people lost businesses, jobs, homes and lots of people couldn’t have operations or scans that could have saved them.

      They shouldn’t be getting a pay rise at all given the state of the economy! And the same people who were advocating for lockdown to ‘make their jobs easier’ are now complaining that their pay can’t being raised due the the economic effects of said lockdown. While I respect the work of the NHS, they’re on thin ice right now with regards to public support, especially at a time when jobs are being lost and businesses are going under.

      As been proven time and time again, this man Barry is not fit to be a parish councillor never mind a county councillor.

      • The Box is making a very insulting unevidenced attack on hard working health workers. Of course everyone has suffered in this awful pandemic but not everyone has put themselves on the front line to try to stop it! I know NHS workers who have caught covid from inadequate PPE. I know social workers who now have long covid. I know staff from residential care homes who caught the illness after looking after young people with special needs.I know a local shop keeper who died from it. All our lives have been scarred by this disease and we have not seen much from this government that has reassured us it’s being handled in the best way possible. We have heard that they may increase our nuclear weapons arsenal – by enough money to pay our public sector workers properly?

      • The government has wasted millions of taxpayers’ money since the start of this pandemic. They have given their business cronies money for useless equipment, they have ignored scientists’ advice.

        Stop venting your hatred of Barry Lewis in these comments, “The Box”. Or if you can’t bring yourself to stop, at least stop hiding behind a pseudonym.

      • I think you’ll find that NHS staff have the overwhelming support of the public. I reckon the public are savvy enough to see that NHS getting a below inflation payrise compared with illegal nuclear warheads being gifted a 44% payrise is a poor economic choice.

  3. I notice that you don’t mention the billions spent on the amazing vaccine rollout, so I’ll mention it. Of course Labour were keen to still be in the European vaccine scheme and we can see how well it’s going in the EU.
    Christine and Barry once again demonstrate how out of touch they are as regards public mood. As previous commentators have said, so many people have lost jobs and businesses and NHS workers have kept theirs along with all their associated benefits.
    Deputy Leader Angela Rayner has said she supports NHS workers going on strike. Just what we need with the huge backlog of appointments and operations.
    As it fails to mention at the end of the article, I’ll just add it in that Christine is no longer a member of Labour after being expelled.
    Christine and Barry are doing an excellent job campaigning for the Tories. Still banging that same outdated drum, trapped in the seventies, extreme left wing politics which were rejected so strongly at the ballot box. Great job.

    • Christine’s Tongue’s expulsion from the Labour Party has nothing to do with this article. I was expelled from it decades ago but I’m still a socialist.

  4. Oh dear oh dear, how quickly people forget when it comes to money?
    Remember when we all clapped for the NHS staff from our doorsteps, when we thought that the nurses were sent from heaven to save us all? Remember when the PM said he owed his very life to these same angels?
    I have by and large supported Boris and Co through this pandemic even forgiving the glaring mistakes made but I genuinely cannot believe how he has the brass neck by not showing the country’s appreciation for the unstinting and dangerous efforts put in by the people doing their utmost to help us all through this pandemic by not giving the financial rewards that would show that appreciation on a practical way.
    Boris and Co., you have let the nurses down , let the whole country down on this one. The NHS front line staff deserve better.

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