Comparison of junior doctors’ pay with baked beans prices lacks context

3 May 2023
What was claimed

A tin of Heinz Beanz costs £1.40 in 2023.

Our verdict

This is the correct price for single tins in several supermarkets at the time of writing.

What was claimed

Junior doctors are paid the equivalent of 10 tins of Heinz Beanz an hour.

Our verdict

The basic pay of the most junior 11% of junior doctors is currently £14.09 an hour, which is roughly equivalent to 10 tins of Heinz Beanz. Most junior doctors are paid significantly more, even if you only consider basic pay. Many, including some of the most junior doctors, also earn extra money on top of their basic hourly rate.

While the figures in this article were correct at the time they were published, some have since been updated. For the latest information please see our January 2024 article on junior doctor pay.

A widely shared Facebook post and tweet uses the price of Heinz Beanz to claim that junior doctors are paid £14 an hour.

The Facebook post has been shared more than 4,500 times. A version shared by another popular Facebook account has also been shared more than 4,000 times.

The Labour MP Barry Sheerman also shared the post on Twitter, but added a clarification following contact from Full Fact.

While it is true that the basic pay of first-year junior doctors is £14.09 an hour, most junior doctors’ basic pay is significantly more, while many also earn extra money on top of their basic hourly rate.

We’ve seen many claims about pay during recent industrial disputes which are misleading or missing context, including about junior doctors’ pay demands, how much it would cost to raise nurses’ pay and how much their pay is rising. We’ve also fact checked claims about the pay of rail workers.

It’s essential that all sides use accurate information when talking about pay, with all necessary caveats, so that the public can understand the facts about what people earn, what unions are asking for and how much a pay rise might cost.

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What does the post say?

The post uses the price of Heinz Beanz (formerly “Heinz Baked Beans”) to quantify the change in junior doctors’ pay since 2008.

The post’s caption says: “Junior doctor—pay explained. 2008—24 Tins of beans an hour. 2023—10 Tins of beans an hour.”

Beneath this, an image claims that the price of a tin of Heinz beans was 40p in 2008, and is £1.40 in 2023.

A post on an internet message board from July 2008 suggests that the price of Heinz beans in 2008 was 40p, but we have not been able to confirm this. The £1.40 price in 2023 was correct for single tins in several supermarkets at the time of writing.

Are junior doctors paid 10 tins an hour?

Because we’re not sure whether the price of beans in 2008 is accurate, we can’t say whether junior doctors’ pay at the time amounted to 24 tins per hour.

However, the claim that they are paid the equivalent of 10 tins an hour in 2023 amounts to saying that they are paid £14 an hour now, which is something we have written about before.

In England it’s true that junior doctors in Foundation Year 1 currently receive £14.09 in basic pay for each contracted hour, and this figure is reported in their payslips.

However, these doctors are only the most junior 11% of all junior doctors, as defined by the British Medical Association (BMA), and most junior doctors are paid more—a fact which isn’t made clear anywhere in the viral post.

The £14 per hour figure is based on the £29,384 basic salary for junior doctors in their first year, but most junior doctors have higher basic pay than this, which means they receive a higher hourly rate. About 10% of junior doctors are in their second year and currently receive basic pay of £34,012. About 80% are more senior and receive a higher basic salary, of at least £40,257.

The exact hourly pay figure in practice depends on the assumptions used to calculate it. For example, many junior doctors, including those in their first year, can also receive extra pay, for things like working nights, or because they work in more expensive parts of the country.

On the other hand, many junior doctors also work unpaid overtime. If this were included, it would reduce their rate of hourly pay.

All these pay figures show how much doctors earn before any tax has been deducted. 

How has junior doctors’ pay changed since 2008?

The number of tins of beans you could buy is not a reliable way to show the relative value of someone’s salary, because the price of beans may be more volatile than the price of other things that people buy.

Inflation indices capture the changing price of many things in order to try to show how much a sum of money is really worth at different times.

If the price of Heinz Beanz (when bought as a single tin) was 40p in 2008, this suggests that it has risen by 250%, which is much faster than inflation.

The post doesn’t make clear which months in 2008 and 2023 it is comparing, but the BMA calculations on junior doctor pay look at the change from April 2009 to April 2022.

There are a number of different measures you could use to calculate inflation, and all have their strengths and weaknesses. The RPI index (which the BMA uses for its calculations on doctors’ pay) rose by 58% in this period, while the CPIH index (the preferred measure of the Office for National Statistics) rose by 36%.

Accounting for RPI inflation, which the BMA uses, suggests a real-terms fall in junior doctors’ pay of about 26% between 2008/9 and 2021/22, implying that a roughly 35% rise would be needed to restore it. Using CPIH inflation would suggest that doctors’ pay has fallen less steeply.

Image courtesy of Jimmy12345789

We took a stand for good information.

As detailed in our fact check, Barry Sheerman MP posted a tweet clarifying that not all junior doctors receive this rate of pay, following contact from Full Fact.

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