A survey by UNISON, released this week, has shown significant continuing public support for the NHS and public services following the first wave of Covid-19. 69% of people surveyed believe that NHS staff should get an early pay rise before the end of the year. It’s time for the government to turn their clapping into action, with substantial pay increases, that truly acknowledge the sacrifices made by frontline workers who have risked their lives saving others through the pandemic.
It has been reassuring to see the number of new cases of the virus falling, but with further opening up of communities, it’s vital that we remain vigilant, and do not relax measures too fast, too soon. I share concerns over localised spikes in cases and at the recent news that the magic ‘R’ number is above 1 here in the South East. It’ is also clear from the increases in cases across Europe, that the threat is not over, nor will it be until a reliable vaccine is found. As life moves indoors in the autumn, with the additional complications of seasonal flu, we must continue to be cautious and maintain social distancing and other measures to keep our families, friends and communities safe.
I cannot help but notice, when walking down the high street, how many shops remain closed. The impact of the pandemic on the economy will not be fully felt until the latter part of the year when the government furlough scheme ends, and forecasters are predicting that it could take 4-5 years to fully recover. There is a £10bn shortfall in local government budgets, which will see many councils forced to make impossible decisions in the autumn. UNISON is calling for the government to fund local councils adequately, after a decade of austerity and the pandemic only adding to funding problems.
Education budgets must be boosted to allow for more facilities and cleaning staff, to keep staff and students safe when they return in September, and Higher Education institutions must be protected from substantial drops in their income due to the drop in overseas students as a result of the pandemic. We must all brace ourselves and continue to strengthen the union ahead of the challenges headed our way over the coming months and years.
The pandemic forced us to postpone our plans for ‘The BIG Weekend’ in May. After meeting with the Regional Convenors Group this week, we agreed to reschedule it for May 2021. We are working with the venue to agree dates, in the hope that risks have dissipated. In the meantime, our regional education team are working hard developing an online training programme for the remainder of the year, including a series of webinars for branch equality officers and leads, which will take place throughout August.
Finally, it is pleasing to note that we were the first region to run a full series of Health & Safety webinars, and all six of these are now available to watch again on our website. There is a national campaign now to recruit more H&S reps, taking on many of the initiatives started in the South East, and national webinars will continue over the summer.
Whatever you are doing through the summer, stay safe and well.