PM: We tried to give as much as we possibly could with 1% NHS pay rise

Patrick Daly, PA Political Correspondent
·5 min read

The Government has tried to give NHS staff “as much as we possibly can” after recommending a 1% pay rise, the Prime Minister said.

The proposal has sparked talk of industrial action and demonstrations were planned across England on Sunday, with senior Conservatives also speaking out.

An Opinium poll carried out on Friday and Saturday suggested as much as 72% of the population think the wage recommendation is too low, including 58% of Tory voters.

Boris Johnson defended the decision, however, during a visit to a vaccination centre in Brent in north London.

The Prime Minister told broadcasters: “I’m massively grateful to all NHS staff and indeed to social care workers who have been heroic throughout the pandemic.

“What we have done is try to give them as much as we can at the present time.

“The independent pay review body will obviously look at what we’ve proposed and come back.

“Don’t forget that there has been a public sector pay freeze, we’re in pretty tough times.”

Royal College of Nursing (RCN) chief Dame Donna Kinnair accused Mr Johnson of “failing to understand the situation” and said his pay defence would lead to nurses leaving the profession.

“When there are already tens of thousands of unfilled nurse jobs in the NHS, he’s pushing more to the door this weekend,” said the union’s general secretary.

The comments come after Education Secretary Gavin Williamson suggested the Government would turn to public sector cutbacks to claw back pandemic spending through a period of “restraint”.

Mr Williamson said ministers had “put forward what we believe we can afford” for nurses during “difficult economic challenges”, after £400 billion of borrowing by the Government during its response to the coronavirus crisis.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson signalled a 'period of restraint' on public sector pay
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson signalled a ‘period of restraint’ on public sector pay (John Sibley/PA)

Teachers and others in the public sector will face a pay freeze, with NHS staff the only group to be exempted following their efforts during the epidemic, he said.

The Cabinet minister told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme: “What we all recognise is that this is a period of making sure we have restraint right across the public sector.”

Labour labelled the NHS pay recommendation “reprehensible”, and argued that a 2.1% wage increase had been budgeted and legislated for in January 2020 when the NHS’s long-term spending plans were voted on in the House of Commons.

Senior Conservatives, including former health minister Dr Dan Poulter, who has been working on the NHS front line during the pandemic, have also broken ranks to criticise the 1% decision in recent days.

A demonstration in Manchester against the pay proposals attracted about 40 people, according to Greater Manchester Police.

It resulted in the arrest and fining of a 65-year-old woman, while the organiser faces a £10,000 fixed penalty notice for breaking lockdown rules, police said.

Police detain an NHS worker after breaking up a protest in Manchester over the proposed 1% pay rise for NHS workers from the Government
Police detain an NHS worker after breaking up a protest in Manchester over the proposed 1% pay rise for NHS workers from the Government (Jacob King/PA)

Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy said the rise recommended by ministers to independent pay bodies amounts to a “real-terms pay cut” as it will be outflanked by inflation.

A newly qualified nurse earning a £24,907 salary would face a real-terms cut to the tune of £174 if the rise goes ahead, according to Labour.

Labour’s Ms Nandy told Sky News: “We think nurses deserve a pay rise this year and that should never have been something that was up for negotiation – this is a Government that has completely got its priorities wrong.

“If they can give a special adviser (Dominic Cummings) who broke the rules a 50% pay rise but then offer our nurses a real-terms pay cut, that is a Government that just has not understood who it is that is getting us through this crisis.”

The Observer reported that many Tory MPs now believe the 1% offer will be revisited when the NHS pay review bodies recommend salary levels for health service staff in May.

The Prime Minister and the Education Secretary both highlighted the importance of the independent review “process” during interviews on Sunday.

Mr Williamson also stressed that “no-one wants to see industrial action” after the RCN pledged to establish a £35 million fund to support members wanting to strike over the pay move.

Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy
Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy said the recommended rise amounts to a real-terms cut (Jane Barlow/PA)

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth also said he believes nurses do not want to join picket lines.

“I know nurses, they don’t want to go on strike,” he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.

“I will always support the rights of staff to take industrial action but we don’t want to get to that place, so the Government has to drop this 1% pay rise, which is a pay cut.”

It comes as Labour revealed it will vote against the freeze to the personal income tax allowance threshold that was laid out in the Budget.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced last week that he will maintain the tax-free threshold at 2021/22 levels for five years in a move that the UK’s fiscal watchdog calculates will bring an extra one million people into the tax system.

“We feel that now is absolutely the wrong time to be targeting low and middle-income earning families for tax hikes and squeezing their incomes,” Ms Nandy told Sky News.