Jonathan Ashworth is telling voters that the May elections represent an opportunity for the public to “send a message to the Conservatives” on their decision to reward health service workers with a real-terms pay cut.
Commenting after the NHS staff survey revealed that over 300,000 employees worked unpaid hours in the past year, and that 13,000 more staff reported working overtime compared to 2019, he said “the whole country is watching”.
“The whole country saw the heroism of our nurses and NHS staff during this pandemic. And the whole country is watching as this injustice continues. Our NHS staff deserve a fair pay rise,” the Shadow Health Secretary said today.
“Whether you live in London or Lancashire, you can send a message to the Conservatives in May that a pay cut for our NHS heroes is an insult. A vote for Labour is a vote to support our nurses.”
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 recently, 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.
In an exchange with Matt Hancock earlier today, after the Health Secretary delivered a statement to the House of Commons, Ashworth highlighted that the minister had not mentioned the NHS pay dispute.
“He claps NHS workers, he claps nurses, but he is introducing a real-terms pay cut for our NHS staff,” Ashworth told parliament this afternoon, as he responded to Hancock’s statement on vaccine delays.
The Royal College of Nursing has called for a 12% pay rise. Angela Rayner was criticised last week for not backing the demand, instead arguing that they should “at the very least” receive the 2.1% increase planned by the government last year.
Labour campaigned in the 2019 general election for a 5% pay rise for NHS workers. The deputy leader was challenged in an interview on why the party is now instead calling for the lower 2.1% increase outlined in the NHS long-term plan.
Some Labour left figures have argued for the party to campaign for a greater pay rise. John McDonnell tweeted: “After what they’ve gone through in the pandemic, my simple message is pay the nurses what they are asking for.”
Keir Starmer launched his party’s national election campaign earlier this month, telling the electorate that a “vote for Labour is a vote to support our nurses, to rebuild social care and to reward our key workers”.
He made the case that the May elections are a choice between Labour building a “stronger, more secure and prosperous recovery” or the Tories who are cutting nurses’ pay and NHS spending while raising taxes.
“Under my leadership, and with our great local candidates across the country, Labour offers a very different route to recovery,” he said. “Our priorities are your priorities: securing the economy, protecting the NHS, rebuilding Britain.”
The public will head to the polls in May this year in a bumper set of contests to elect councillors in 184 local authorities, 13 directly-elected mayors, 40 police and crime commissioners as well as members of the Welsh and Scottish parliaments.