Unite has slammed the government for ending free car parking for NHS staff in England this week, as it highlighted rock-bottom morale among health workers and a cost of living crisis that has hit so many of them especially hard.
Free car parking for health and social care staff in England was first introduced at the start of the pandemic in March 2020 after persistent campaigning from Unite and additional pressure from the public, in which 400,000 people signed a petition calling for parking charges for NHS workers to be scrapped.
But now, health secretary Sajid Javid announced this week that free parking for health workers would end from Friday, noting in statement, “Free parking in hospital car parks for NHS staff introduced during the pandemic will also come to an end on 31 March”.
He dismissed the need for continued free car parking for NHS staff, noting in his update that the pandemic had moved on to a new stage and that 93 per cent of trusts that charge for car parking have implemented free parking “for those in greatest need, including NHS staff working overnight”.
Javid added that he “would like to record my thanks to everyone who has worked tirelessly to keep people safe over the last two years and whose efforts have enabled us to move to the next stage of the Covid-19 response”.
NHS workers reacted with fury to the decision after having spent the last two years under intense pressure saving lives, while putting their own lives and that of their families’ at great risk. For them, the latest announcement has added insult to injury after being offered a 3 per cent pay rise, one that’s well below inflation and so has amounted to a decisive pay cut.
Earlier this month, UniteLive spoke to Unite rep and biomedical scientist Ian Evans, who highlighted how the cost of living crisis has hit low-paid NHS staff, like the phlebotomists he manages, especially hard.
“Brighton, where I work, is one of the most expensive places to live in the UK outside of London. Most health workers don’t live in the heart of the city because they can’t afford to, so many of them rely on driving to work. Hospitals don’t provide enough parking as it is so many of them have had to pay for parking elsewhere anyway. With fuel prices also going through the roof, our staff are very much being hit by the cost of living crisis.”
A freedom of information request made by the GMB union previously found that NHS staff in England were paying up to £1,300 a year to park at their workplace.
In Wales, parking at all NHS hospitals has been free since 2018, while in Scotland, the vast majority of NHS hospitals scrapped parking charges as far back as 2008. The only three remaining hospitals still charging for parking in Scotland did away with charges in August last year.
Commenting on the latest news, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said, “Our amazing NHS key workers put their lives on the line to get us through this pandemic. Scrapping free car parking in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis is a lousy way to repay that service.
“The government should be giving health staff a proper pay rise – not adding to their bills,” she added. “And it should be funding our NHS properly so that hospitals don’t have to rely on car parks for income.”
Unite national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe agreed.
“The removal of free car parking is another slap in the face for NHS staff at a time when morale is rock-bottom and the government recommends an insulting 3 per cent pay rise for our health workers,” he said. “Let’s not forget that many of the NHS workers who are out their saving lives, such as for example an NHS health care assistant, receives only the basic national living wage for their efforts.
“It is unconscionable for the government to be scrapping free parking at a time when prices are going through the roof and so many NHS staff are struggling,” Jarrett-Thorpe added. “This government has displayed once again that it is not serious about supporting the NHS and its staff. We appeal to the UK government to reverse this decision immediately.”
By Hajera Blagg