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Let’s take from the poor to give to the rich. Oh wait...


Let’s assume you already work more than your allotted hours, rarely get a lunch break, never get thanked and have to watch - bemused - as Catherine Zeta wotsit gets an MBE for being Welsh and pretty while you get someone else’s wee on your support stockings.

OK, let’s leave all that aside for a moment and ask ourselves this question: if we believed that the country and its people were in crisis, what would we be prepared to do to help? Would you work an additional two hours a week without pay? (Yes, I know you already do, but let go of that for a minute, we’re playing a game.) Would you pay an extra £10 a week in tax? Take a pay freeze? A pay cut?

If someone came along and said: “Look, we really are in trouble and we need your help. We’re getting rid of corporate services first, obviously - communications officers are being bussed out as we speak and every manager in the building is being paid band 4 wages as of today - but we need your help too. Please.”

‘The personal wealth of the 1,000 richest people in Britain rose by £77bn. That is growth of 30 per cent since 2008. Or to put it another way, half a deficit’

All things being equal - and call me naive, you won’t be the first - I think most people would help. Because when presented with an opportunity to do something that helps, public servants tend to take it.

And one wonders if the grave pronouncements of impending cuts and gloom that will touch everyone in the country are perhaps a forerunner to a sort of moral call to arms. “We’re in trouble, we need the best from the British people in order to overcome this crisis.”

But of course most of us don’t believe politicians do we? If the prime minister says “we are all going to suffer a little” we hear “lots of you will suffer but plenty of us won’t”’.

In the most recent Sunday Times rich list we were told that the fortunes of the richest people in Britain are actually soaring. Indeed, the personal wealth of the richest 1,000 people in Britain rose by £77bn. That is a growth of 30 per cent since 2008. Or to put it another way, half a deficit. Apparently the recession has been good for some people. Which is nice.

I suspect that people who have chosen to work in public services think about work, indeed think about the world, in a different way to people who have chosen to do something else. And because of that I think we would tend towards trying to take responsibility for solving a problem even if it cost us something. But to a backdrop of obscene wealth for some and unquestioned privilege for others it is, frankly, hard to take the foreboding seriously or lend it goodwill.

If politicians want people to back cuts and hardship they need to target some of the areas of more obvious excess before they get to the public servants. Otherwise they don’t carry the best of the country with them.
It’s one thing to make sacrifices in the interests or protection of people who are at risk or in the interests of a collective wellbeing, but quite another to be asked to take a pay cut to protect the excessive wealth of a privileged few.


Readers' comments (27)

  • I think you answered your own questions in that essay.

    Yes the majority of people who enter public service think slightly differently than a large part of the population. We are often motivated differently and have different paradigms.

    And yes, the vast majority of us would help, given the chance. Many already do.

    However, that 'goodwill' for lack of a better word has been seriously attacked and eroded in recent years as it has been proven over and over again that the more you give, the more you get shafted. The more selfish you are, the better you get on in life.

    If those in power want this goodwill to continue, then they must ask more of those who give the least first.

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  • That aside, there are some incredibly rich people who donate lots of time and money, and create jobs which would otherwise not exist - its all swings and roundabouts. I think we are forgetting how privilaged we are to have meaningful and moral careers which leave us sitting above the poverty line - which is something most people in this world can only dream of. So we work hard, but at least we can sleep at night...

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  • Being one of the many who has regularly given extra hours without pay due to staff shortages and sickness only to have recruitment put on hold and bank/agency shifts banned due to financial reasons. I have reached the point of exhaustion as have many of the team I work with.

    The Management have shown they will push and take continually. God forbid an exhausted nurse who ends up sick! No understanding from management at all.

    So the government say things are tight... How about they and all their cronies take a pay cut, stop claiming expenses and put the money into the NHS... See how they feel.

    I am currently being told I will now have to pay £10 a day to park at work and give approximately 6 hours free work weekly.

    I wonder how that would work out as a percentage of an MP's earnings and how they may feel.

    So..... Good will.... I had plenty until I got completely fed up of being used and abused by the system..

    It's like a spoilt child that demands more and more... There has to come a time when the answer is NO!

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  • I object to this idea of pay cuts. They are wanting more and more from us for less remuneration. I do the work of two people when on shift. I never get a 'meal break' as I am the only qualified and very rarely get off shift at the correct time. The NHS owes me thousands of pounds in free work. Let those who are proposing these cuts do our jobs and see what they would say in answer to less money. Are they also going to give us our daily living needs for less money too? We are our own worst enemies. We should take our breaks and leave on time. Maybe we should have a clocking in system. It would make things far easier to monitor in y opinion.

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  • I agree with my colleagues here. We should take the breaks we're entitled to. As nurses we ALWAYS start on time we should also FINISH on time - it's part of good time management, isn't it? It's not working to rule, it's working to the contract that we signed up for. We should also lead by example and be good role models. The health service these days is run as a business - or is it? Any private business run as the NHS is would have gone under years ago if it wasn't for nurses - and others - working unpaid enforced overtime to bale our 'company directors' out. You don't see the politicians working overtime for no reward. The expense system goes to show how that system worked. No pay - no work. However, as nurses we have a caring, compassionate side to our nature which is probably why we allow ourselves to taken advantage of, but it doesn't stop us being good role models. Clocking on and off would be great to allow our true working hours to be recorded rather than 'putting our time due in the book' with no hope of getting it back.

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  • I completely agree with Anonymous | 19-Jun-2010 1:12 pm, Nurses are often their own worst enemy when it comes to this.

    We should absolutely work to rule.

    Start work on time, care for your patients and do as much as you can, but take your breaks (and refuse to be interupted), and leave the minute your shift ends. If there is still work to be done when your shift ends, so what? Hand it over. It is not your problem, it is a management problem for not getting enough staff in.

    And for all those who use emotional blackmail to justify this, (don't want to hand it over to friends/colleagues, patients will suffer) enough is enough. It is not our responsibility to deal with these problems. We can't take any more. I urge EVERY Nurse to work to rule, and that way management will HAVE to sort staffing/pay etc problems out.

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  • Dear overworked and abused hospital Colleagues.

    I'm still wondering what happened to the 9% pay deal over 3 years, promised 3 years ago. In General Practice we have only had the minimal 'cost of living' 2.5% the 1st year, 1.5% last year and NOTHING this year. I have effectively therefore had a pay cut for the past 3 years.

    I am however able to manage my time as I am able to manage my appointments, apart from the occasional 'emergency'. The occasional is fine, all part of the service.

    Regular extras and unpaid overtime should not happen, it is an abuse of staff's goodwill. Make yourself into a doormat and people will walk over you. Keep a list of overtime and present it on a time sheet and claim for the extra time or take time in lieu. Talk to your union or professional body, make a noise.

    Remember the squeaky trolley gets the oil.

    Good Luck.

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  • In theory it would be great to work your alloted hours instead of staying behind most shifts working and not being paid. Unfortunately at the end of the day management know they can take advantage because what if a patient's life is put at risk because a nurse went home on time instead of staying behind. The poor nurse would be suspended and all manner of enquiries will take place. Yet management can leave work on time are able to have their lunch break, attend meetings for most of the day with lunch/fancy coffee being provided yet nurses cannot even have a proper lunch break without being interupted because of emergency etc. So asking frontline staff to work extra hours for free is a no no this is already being done there is nothing left to give.

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  • i am a student nurse about to qualify. ive spent 3 years listening to demoralised nurses complaining about how they are treated at work. i now feel as i end my course that i do not want to be a nurse. i am quite a passive person and the thought of having to fight every minute of the working day fills me with dread. i just wanted to care for people.

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  • I agree with all the above comments regarding work to rule etc etc, but you know what..its all rhetoric, it will NEVER happen because nurses are who and what they are, and everyone from government ministers to local managers know this and will abuse your goodwill to the end. I am a university lecturer (with all the impending doom associated with THAT role!) and if I lose my job I would rather dig trenches than go back into the NHS, as despite the well deserved comments on the good healthcare it provides for the UK, it is a crap place to work.

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