Jonathan Ashworth has declared that the failure of the government to deliver on its commitment in the long-term NHS plan to give staff in the health service a 2.1% pay rise shows that “you simply can’t trust the Tories with the NHS”.
Following an urgent question from Labour today, the Shadow Health Secretary told Conservative Helen Whately that the 1% pay rise proposed by her department represents a real-terms pay cut as it does not keep up with inflation.
“Why isn’t the Secretary of State to defend a Budget that puts up tax for hard-working families and cuts pay for hard-working nurses?” Ashworth asked the shadow health minister this afternoon in the House of Commons.
“The Secretary of State who has stood at that despatch box week after week, praising nurses. Waxing lyrical. Describing them as “heroes”, saying ‘they are the very best of us’. And now he is cutting nurses’ pay.”
The Shadow Health Secretary pointed out that Matt Hancock had brought forward his long-term plan for the NHS last year and that the government had committed to a 2.1% pay rise for the 1.4 million employees who work in the health service.
“That long-term plan was based on a 2.1% pay increase for all NHS staff,” Ashworth said. “Every Tory MP voted for it. The minister voted for it. And now every Tory MP is cutting nurses’ pay.”
He accused ministers of having decided unilaterally to cut real-terms pay for NHS workers and highlighted that the government has not committed to following the recommendations of the independent pay review body.
“Our NHS staff deserve so much better,” Ashworth told parliament. “If this government doesn’t deliver a pay rise, it shows once again that you simply can’t trust the Tories with the NHS.”
The pay review body, an advisory non-departmental public entity, reports to the government. It is responsible for making recommendations on pay for all NHS employees across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Whately informed MPs this afternoon that the pay review body will look at a wide range of evidence before reporting back to the government but could only confirm that ministers would “look at their recommendations very carefully”.
The Department of Health and Social Care recommended a 1% pay rise for most NHS workers last week in its submission to the body. “Anything higher would require re-prioritisation,” the government document states.
Labour leader Keir Starmer has argued that “public sector workers should get a pay rise”, saying: “They have been keeping our country going throughout this pandemic and it’s absolutely wrong to freeze their pay at this time.”
Ashworth asked the minister why Rishi Sunak had not ‘levelled’ with nurses about the move to slash pay. “This is a pay cut he couldn’t even mention in the Budget speech and he tried to sneak out in the small print,” he concluded.
Labour has also accused the Tories of burying wider cuts in the Budget documents. They show that NHS England core resource spending, which includes Covid spending, is set to fall from £147.7bn this year to £139.1bn next year.
Tory MP and health and social care select committee chair Jeremy Hunt, a former Health Secretary, picked up on this point today, which had also been identified by the Office for Budget Responsibility after the statement from Sunak.
“An even bigger gap in last week’s Budget was identified by the OBR as a lack of funding from next year for annual Covid vaccinations, for test and trace, for long Covid and for millions of catch-up operations,” Hunt told the chamber.