The government is already facing a furious public backlash over the one per cent pay rise offered to NHS workers in England after the pandemic, with the vast majority of voters believing the increase is too low.
Amid speculation from senior Tories that the government will be forced into a swift U-turn, a new poll revealed that 72 per cent of the public believe the pay proposition should be more generous.
The Tories are also facing anger from their own supporters, as an Opinium poll for the Observer found a clear majority of Conservative voters – 58 per cent – believe the increase is too low. More than a third of the public – 35 per cent – said they were angry about the offer.
Labour has claimed that Rishi Sunak’s Budget could leave an NHS worker more than £300 worse off over the next two years, because of a Budget triple whammy of tax hikes, allowance freezes and a looming freeze to income tax thresholds.
Shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds accused Sunak of “turning his back on our NHS heroes before the crisis is even over” with his Budget.
A newly-qualified nurse earning a £24,907 salary would face a real terms cut to the tune of £174 if the one per cent rise goes ahead, according to Labour.
And with the average Band D property likely to see a council tax rise of £93 this year and a lack of increase in personal allowance in 2022/23 meaning a nurse could pay £40 more tax, they could be £307 poorer over the course of the next two years, Labour suggested.
Dodds said: “The Budget has led to the absurd situation where a newly qualified nurse is over £300 worse off – while some large companies will be able to write off swimming pools as ‘super deductions’.
“The Conservatives’ approach weakened Britain’s foundations in the decade before the crisis and left us brutally exposed to the virus. Their decision to further squeeze families and cut public services won’t rebuild our country – it will just prolong the pain.”
Labour will vote against the decision to freeze income tax thresholds this week, cautioning that workers and families should not have to repair the damage done by the pandemic before big business. Under current plans a major hike in corporation tax is due, but not until 2023 – a year after a freeze in income taxes.
Many MPs now believe the one per cent offer will be revisited in May, when NHS pay review bodies recommend salary levels for health services staff.
Dodds accused of Sunak of “hiding the pain in the small print” of the Budget. “The chancellor has turned his back on our NHS heroes before the crisis is even over, repeatedly hitting their pockets,” she said.
“His budget has led to the absurd situation where a newly qualified nurse is over £300 worse off – while some large companies will be able to write off swimming pools as ‘super deductions’.”
That 72 per cent of voters want to see a higher pay settlement for the NHS indicates the strength of public feeling over the matter. The figure is higher than the number of people who believed Dominic Cummings should have resigned over his lockdown excursion to Barnard Castle (68 per cent).
Increasing NHS staff salaries is second among the public’s top priorities for government spending, with 40 per cent selecting it. It was behind only improving NHS and social care services, which was selected by 61 per cent. A small majority – 51 per cent – said they would back nurses striking over the issue.
A government spokesperson said: “Over one million NHS staff continue to benefit from multi-year pay deals agreed with trade unions, which have delivered a pay rise of over 12 per cent for newly qualified nurses and will increase junior doctors’ pay scales by 8.2 per cent.
“Pay rises in the rest of the public sector will be paused this year due to the challenging economic environment, but we will continue to provide pay rises for NHS workers, on top of a £513 million investment in professional development and increased recruitment.
“That’s with record numbers of doctors and 10,600 more nurses working in our NHS, and with nursing university applications up by over a third. The independent pay review bodies will report in late spring and we will consider their recommendations carefully when we receive them.”