Chancellor Rishi Sunak was accused of believing “nurses are worth less now” than before the Covid-19 pandemic, amid pressure for NHS workers to receive a 15% pay rise.
The Government has proposed giving some NHS staff in England a 1% pay rise, despite an expectation from health bosses that it would be 2.1%.
Speaking in the Commons, shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds said: “We need a straight answer now from the Chancellor. Why do the Conservatives believe our nurses are worth less now than they were before the pandemic?”
Mr Sunak replied: “With regard to public sector pay, we set out a policy in November, but given the situation we were taking a more targeted approach to public sector pay – to balance fairness and to protect as many jobs as possible.
“(Ms Dodds) will know that the NHS was exempted from that policy and NHS workers will receive a pay rise next year.”
Labour MP Zarah Sultana (Coventry South) went further and pressed for a 15% pay increase.
She said: “NHS workers have seen their pay fall by more than 10% in real terms in the past decade.
“So instead of handing out fortunes to mates and donors, will the Chancellor heed the calls of trade unions and NHS staff and give them the pay rise they deserve? That’s 15% to make up for a decade of lost pay.”
Replying for the Government, Treasury minister Steve Barclay said Ms Sultana was “simply wrong on the facts” with her question.
He said: “Under the Agenda for Change three-year award, the nurse’s average increase this year was 2.5%, not the fall she alluded to.
“But of course the Government has asked the pay review body to consider a number of factors and, as is normal practice, the Department of Health has set out what figure is affordable within their budget.”
Ian Lavery, Labour MP for Wansbeck, described the 1% rise as “incredibly insulting” and urged the Government to lift a wider pay freeze on 2.5 million public servants.
Mr Sunak replied: “A majority of those working in the public sector will see an increase in their pay in this forthcoming year as a result of our pay policy, and importantly those earning less than the median UK salary will receive a £250 increase in their pay as we want to protect those on the lowest incomes.”
Elsewhere, Conservative John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) said further increasing the minimum wage ahead of inflation would “encourage businesses to invest in their workforce”.
The highest rate of the minimum wage, referred to as the national living wage by the Government, will increase from £8.72 to £8.91 from April – and will apply to those aged 23 or over.
Mr Baron said: “In welcoming the Government’s generous economic support packages and the increase in the national living wage, can I just ask the minister to consider further increasing it ahead of inflation in the years ahead in order to help achieve our one nation agenda and ensure work pays?”
Treasury minister Kemi Badenoch said the Government “remains committed to ensuring work pays and hoping to end low pay”, adding: “I am sure that the request which he is making is one which we will consider as always in future budgets. Taxes and minimum wages are always under review.”
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