Jonathan Ashworth has described the announcement of a 3% pay rise for NHS staff by the government on Wednesday evening as a “let down” for health and care workers and warned that many are not covered by the settlement.
The government was rebuked by the Speaker today for announcing the plans in the media. He said he was “far from happy” that social care minister Helen Whately had given an update in parliament on Wednesday with no mention of the award.
Addressing parliament this morning, the Shadow Health Secretary said: “It was an insult to the House and it was a let down for health and care staff. Ministers have been dragged kicking and screaming to this 3% settlement.”
Ashworth warned MPs that the offer was not an NHS-wide pay award because it does not cover the entirety of the health and care workforce, such as junior doctors and others, not covered by the independent pay review body.
He added: “Will all health staff employed in public health receive this settlement? And yet again – when we know the value of care workers – why won’t the government guarantee a real living wage for those working in social care?”
Nadhim Zahawi said the pay rise covered one million staff including nurses, paramedics, consultants and salaried GPs, adding: “The junior doctors that he speaks about have got a separate multi-year pay rise every three years.”
The Shadow Health Secretary asked the minister how the pay increase would be funded: “NHS trusts don’t even know what their budget will be beyond September.”
“The Health Secretary has just said the pay settlement costs £2.2bn – so where is the £2.2bn coming from? Or is he expecting trusts and general practices to find it from their existing budgets?”
Highlighting the strain the NHS is under, he told the ministers that the health service “needs more investment now” and asked for confirmation on whether the government will be breaking its manifesto pledge by raising national insurance.
“Three weeks ago the health secretary said lifting restrictions would make us healthier. There are now 700 admissions a day. Almost 600 people are on ventilators,” the Shadow Health Secretary told parliament today.
“Cancer operations cancelled, ambulances trusts are under unprecedented pressures. A&E demand is intense. Hundreds of thousands waiting over 12 months for treatment, thousands waiting over two years. The NHS needs a more investment now.
“And we need the plan to fix social care, the Prime Minister promised on Downing Street two years ago this Saturday. Instead this week we’ve had briefing and counter briefing from Prime Minister, Chancellor and Health Secretary.”
Kwasi Kwarteng told Sky News this morning that he does not expect the government to increase national insurance to fund the social care reforms, adding that it was a manifesto commitment he “hoped” would not be broken.
“I don’t see how we could increase national insurance, but… we’ve been spending huge amounts of money that we never thought was possible and it’s up to the Chancellor and the Treasury, and the wider government, to decide the Budget,” the Business Secretary said.
The Shadow Health Secretary said ministers had allowed Covid infections to “get out of control” and described the ‘pingdemic’ as a symptom of this. He called for clarity on exemptions for some workers and the necessary testing capacity.
“The government are apparently U-turning today and releasing a list of workers that could be exempt from isolation, based on a negative PCR test,” he said.
“With infections running at more than 50,000 a day, possibly on the way up to 100,000 a day, can he absolutely confirm that PCR testing capacity will be available to cope with the inevitable increased demand this summer?
“And if he wants to avoid shutting society down, he needs to bring infections down. So why has government ruled out extending statutory sick pay for the lowest paid and what is he doing to drive up the vaccination rates amongst younger adults?”
Criticising the ministers statement of support for vaccine passport proposals today, Ashworth asked why Zahawi thought it safe everyone to be able to visit a night club this Friday but only safe for those double jabbed in September.
He called on the minister to set out when a vote on the plan would take place, and also highlighted the discrepancy between the government proposals for venues such as night clubs but lack of Covid mitigation planning for schools.
He asked the minister to ensure that the weeks over the summer holiday are used to install air filtration units in schools in time for the start of term, and asked whether face masks would be reintroduced.
Ministers announced the 3% pay rise, “in recognition of unique impact of the pandemic”, on Wednesday evening. Health unions have argued the increase is not enough, and have threatened to take industrial action over the proposal.
Unite branded it “grossly inadequate”. UNISON recognised that the 3% offer is an improvement, but said it still “falls short” of what NHS staff deserve after the past 16 months. GMB slammed the proposal as “insulting”.
The Royal College of Nursing last night explained that with the Treasury expecting inflation to rise by 3.7%, “ministers are knowingly cutting pay for an experienced nurse by £200 in real terms”.
Following the recommendation from the Department for Health and Social Care for a 1% pay rise earlier this year, Labour argued that the government should at least honour its previous commitment in the NHS long-term plan for a 2.1% increase.
The Shadow Health Secretary suggested at the time that ministers should start from a base of 2.1% and negotiate with trade unions over a final figure.