Labour criticised over refusal to back 12% pay rise for NHS nurses

Elliot Chappell
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Angela Rayner has been criticised by left activists over Labour’s refusal to back demands for a 12% pay rise for NHS nurses, as the party only says they should “at the very least” receive the 2.1% increase planned by the government last year.

Discussing health worker pay in an interview this morning, Rayner – whose deputy leadership bid was backed by Momentum – said the government should “honour its promise to our NHS workers who have worked so hard” during Covid.

Asked why Labour is not backing the Royal College of Nursing’s demand for a 12% pay rise, the party chair said: “There’s a pay review body and the number of trade unions that are involved in that and I think that that negotiation should start.

“But actually the starting point at the very least should be what the government had legislated and budgeted for because we all know that NHS staff have put themselves at risk during this pandemic. We know we’ve got thousands of vacancies already across our NHS.

“If we give them a real-terms pay cut now, we’re going to have serious problems in filling those vacancies and dealing with the backlog of cancer patients that we’ve got and supporting our key workers that have supported us through one of the most difficult times this country has ever faced.”

Labour campaigned in the 2019 general election for a 5% pay rise for NHS workers. The deputy leader was challenged this morning on why the party is now instead calling for the 2.1% increase outlined in the NHS long-term plan.

“We’re talking about our election launch for May now, and we’ve got to remind ourselves that that manifesto launch in 2019 – the general public completely rejected it,” Rayner said in response to the challenge.

“You know, it’s one of our worst election defeats. What me and Keir have done when we took over the leadership of the Labour Party is listen to voters.

“And if you listen to voters now, 12 months on from the start of this pandemic, they would say that the government should at least honour its promise to our NHS workers who have worked so hard. And that is what I’m campaigning on.”

Reacting to her comments today, a Momentum spokesperson said: “In the context of a 10% real-terms pay cut since 2010, this refusal to back our nurses unions and their reasonable demand for a 12% rise is embarrassing.

“This leadership is developing a reputation. First they sold out the teachers, now they sell out the nurses – who’s next? It’s time for the Labour party to pick a side and stand up for working people.”

The government has recommended that NHS workers receive a pay rise of 1%, which amounts to a real-terms pay cut as it fails to keep pace with inflation. Ministers have argued that nurses have received a 12.8% increase since 2017/18.

This claim, repeated by Boris Johnson in parliament on Wednesday, does not account for inflation or the impact of austerity on their wages up to 2017. It also only applies to one group of nurses working rather than all those working in the NHS.

The Health Foundation has reported that NHS wages were “£600 per employee lower in real terms” at the start of the pandemic than in 2011/12. Earnings have risen at around 1.5% a year since while inflation has risen by 1.8% per year.

“Choosing 2017/18 as the base year is potentially misleading as there were several years of below-inflation increases between 2010-11 and 2017-18,” Dr Gavan Conlon from consultancy London Economics explained.

John McDonnell tweeted this afternoon: “The Labour manifesto 2019 proposed a 5% pay rise for NHS workers to start process of making up the ground lost by these workers as a result of 10 years of pay freezes & cuts.”

“After what they’ve gone through in the pandemic my simple message is pay the nurses what they are asking for,” the former Shadow Chancellor added.

Keir Starmer described the handling of NHS pay in Prime Minister’s Questions as “unacceptable” and “pathetic”, highlighting that while Boris Johnson is cutting pay for health workers he gave his adviser Dominic Cummings a 40% “bumper bonus”.

The Labour leader is launching his party’s campaign ahead of May elections this morning with the message that “a vote for Labour is a vote to support our nurses, to rebuild social care and to reward our key workers”.

Starmer will say that the choice is between “a Labour Party that will build a stronger, more secure and prosperous recovery” or a Tory Party that is cutting nurses’ pay, cutting NHS spending and raising taxes.

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