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Support staff forced to claim state benefits to supplement their NHS work

5 July 2005 - 9:10am

PT'A' staff side evidence to the Pay Review Body - clinical support staff providing crucial care to NHS patients are so badly paid that many are forced to claim state benefits to supplement pay.

(Released on behalf of NHS PROFESSIONS ALLIED TO MEDICINE - Staff Side Secretariat, representing: art therapists, chiropodists, dietitians, occupational therapists, orthoptists, physiotherapists, radiographers and port Staff.)

Clinical support staff providing crucial care to NHS patients are so badly paid that many of them are forced to claim state benefits to supplement their pay.

Even those paid at the maximum rate available still fall below the minimum wage necessary for a satisfactory standard of living, according to the Low Pay Unit and the Council of Europe's decency threshold.

The shocking statistics are highlighted in evidence submitted to the Pay Review Body by the PAM unions on Friday (7 September).

And Garry Newman, PT'A' Staff Side Secretary, warns that unless action is taken to recognise assistants' contribution to healthcare, they will continue to leave the NHS and put the Government's plans for the health reform at risk.

Low pay is the number one reason for NHS staff to consider employment outside the health service according to new evidence submitted to the pay review body for professions allied to medicine (PAM) and support staff (1). On top of their poor pay, therapy assistants and other support staff face a grading system that severely limits their opportunities for promotion.

Speaking on behalf of the PAM unions, Garry Newman said:"Changes to the NHS mean that therapy assistants and other support staff are taking greater responsibility for patient care by supporting professional staff and helping them make the most effective use of their skills and time.  This is being actively encouraged by the Government as part of their plans to reform the health service.  Severe staff shortages are also making the role of assistants more central to the work of therapists, radiographers and other PAM staff.

"Despite their expanding role, the salaries of PAM assistants and support staff are well below recognised low pay thresholds (2) and those with children are entitled to Working Families Tax Credit (3), indicating the Government's recognition that they earn too little to live on.  However, they are excluded from cost of living allowances given to other NHS staff living in London and other high cost areas.  In addition, promotion prospects are limited by an unfair grading system that allows employers the choice of whether to promote members of staff even if they meet all the criteria for regrading.  These factors combine to create increased frustration and poor motivation that is driving these key workers out of the NHS."

The unions representing PAM workers are calling for an above inflation pay award for all PAM staff to help reduce the gulf between NHS and private sector pay.  They are also underlining the need to change the grading system to remove the element of employer choice so assistants and support staff are automatically regraded if they achieve a formal qualification, for example N/SVQ Level III or have been with their employer for five years.

Mr Newman continued: "Improving pay and promotion prospects would provide a significant acknowledgement of the contribution assistants and related grade staff make to the health service.  It would also address the very real problems with low pay which these staff face.  Vacancy rates in all PAM professions are continuing to grow and unless problems with pay and conditions are tackled it is questionable whether there will be enough staff in place to deliver the improvements to patient care that we all want to see."

Ends
Notes to editors:
For further information contact the press office on 0207 306 6628.

The professions allied to medicine (PAMs) are arts therapists, chiropodists, dietitians, occupational therapists, orthoptists, physiotherapists, radiographers and support staff in the NHS. 
1. The 2001 survey of professions allied to medicine was conducted by their union representatives, the PT'A' Staff Side as evidence for the PAM pay review body. (see media briefing)

2. An important way of assessing the extent to which jobs in the related grades are lowly paid is to measure their salaries against those of well-established low pay thresholds ñ that is the amount of gross pay recommended as a minimum needed for the worker to experience a satisfactory standard of living.  In 2001, these figures were £257.73 a week (Low Pay Unit's Threshold) and £279.21 a week (Council of Europe's Decency Threshold).

Assistants and related grade salaries 2001 as a percentage of low pay thresholds.

Low Pay Unit £257.73 per week 

Council of Europe's Decency Threshold £279.21 per week

Helper (minimum, aged 19 and over, £192.60) 75% 69%
Helper (maximum, aged 19 and over, £223.85) 87% 80%
TI/III (minimum, £227.67) 88% 82%
TI/III (maximum, £254.89) 99% 91%

Source:  Low Pay Unit

3  Many PAM staff would be entitled to Working Families Tax Credit, suggesting that the Government believes that their salaries are inadequate to enable them to support themselves and young families.

The following examples of how much WFTC PAM assistants and support staff would be entitled to illustrate clearly just how low the majority of PAM salaries are.  In the examples, net salary is calculated as 70 per cent of the gross salary and the assumption is made that the person is a lone parent, paying £90 per week per child for childcare.  The calculations were made using the Inland Revenue's online calculator.

Working Family Tax Credit: PAMs' Entitlement in 2001

Grade Gross salary per week
£ Net salary per week (70% of gross)
£ WFTC entitlement for lone parent with one child under 16
£ WFTC entitlement for lone parent with two children under 16

Helper (min) 192.60 134.82 136.40 225.40
Helper (max) 223.85 156.70 124.36 213.36
TI/III (min) 227.67 159.37 122.90 211.90
TI/III (max) 254.89 178.42 112.42 201.42

Source:  Inland Revenue

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