NHS workers enraged by the government’s decision to hand them a 1 per cent pay rise are planning a string of protests across England, as Labour predicted the proposition would make new nurses £300 worse off.
Demonstrators have planned a socially-distanced protest outside Downing Street and in Manchester city centre on Sunday over the pay offer.
The move has sparked talk of industrial action, and unions have warned it could see nurses leave the profession in their droves following the “slap in the face” wage review from ministers after twelve months on the front line of the Covid pandemic.
Labour has argued that the government’s recommendation for a 1 per cent pay rise for NHS workers in 2021/22 amounts to a “real terms cut” to wages given that the UK’s fiscal watchdog, the Office for Budget Responsibility, is predicting consumer price inflation (CPI) will rise to 1.7 per cent in the coming year.
A newly-qualified nurse earning a £24,907 salary would face a real terms cut to the tune of £174 if the rise goes ahead, according to Labour.
And with personal income tax allowance frozen at 2021/22 levels for five years by the Chancellor at the Budget and council tax likely to rise in a host of areas next month, the Opposition party said a new nurse could find themselves £307 worse off by 2023.
Shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds accused her opposite number Rishi Sunak of “turning his back on our NHS heroes before the crisis is even over, repeatedly hitting their pockets”.
The outcry over the proposal has not been restricted to the Opposition benches, with a former Tory health minister arguing it was the “wrong time” to be restraining the pay of NHS staff who have gone “above and beyond” during the coronavirus epidemic.
Conservative MP Dr Dan Poulter, who has been assisting on the NHS front line, told the BBC: “For me, this is, from a moral perspective, the wrong time to be applying pay restraint.”
Senior Tory backbenchers Sir Roger Gale and Andrew Percy are among those to have broken ranks to criticise the 1 per cent decision in recent days.
The Observer reported that many Tory MPs now believe the 1 per cent offer will be revisited when the NHS pay review bodies recommend salary levels for health service staff in May.
The paper said a government document shared with backbenchers stated ministers would “consider their recommendations carefully” in the spring.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN), which has decided to set up a £35 million industrial action fund to support members wanting to strike, has warned a large number of nurses could leave the profession following the suggested pay rise.
Patricia Marquis, the union’s South East regional director, told Times Radio: “We know there are significant numbers who are planning to leave and this slap in the face from the government really has just reinforced their belief that they are not valued by either the government or perhaps some of the public in the way they would want to be.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock defended the wage recommendation on Friday, arguing there were “issues of the affordability” following £400 billion of borrowing by the government during its response to the coronavirus crisis.