Austerity measures in the decade leading to 2020 left the NHS and UK as a whole ‘hugely unprepared’ for the Covid pandemic and its fallout, a report from the Trades Union Congress (TUC) has found.
Funding cuts to public services reduced the country’s ability to respond to the pandemic, with strain felt particularly in public services which were left ‘dangerously understaffed’.
Multiple years of pay caps and pay freezes impeded recruitment and increased staff turnover, with the average NHS worker was earning £3,000 less in real terms in 2019 than in 2010.
Between 2010 and 2020, the number of nurses per capita in the UK grew by less than 1%, despite demand for care rising by a third, it added.
And in social care, the turnover rate for staff in England jumped from 22% to 31.8% between 2012/13 and 2019/20.
The TUC – which jointly published its report (5 June) with the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice – has now called on the Covid-19 inquiry to consider the impact of austerity in its assessment.
It urged the Government to work with unions to develop fully-funded workforce strategies across public sectors.
It comes amid reports the Government will publish its long-awaited NHS workforce plan on 5 July, marking the NHS’ 75th anniversary.
Paul Nowak, TUC general secretary, said: ‘In the NHS and social care, funding cuts put staff levels in the danger zone. Cuts to social security pushed many more people below the poverty line, leaving them more vulnerable to infection. And cuts to health and safety left workers exposed to rogue employers who cut corners and put their lives at risk.
‘Austerity cost the nation dearly. It left us hugely unprepared for the pandemic. And it left far too many workers unprotected. The consequences were painful and tragic.’