The prime minister has defended a proposed 1% pay rise for NHS staff.
“What we have done is try to give them as much as we can at the present time,” Boris Johnson said during a visit to a COVID-19 vaccination centre in north London.
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“The independent pay review body will obviously look at what we’ve proposed and come back.
“Don’t forget that there has been a public sector pay freeze, we’re in pretty tough times.
“We’ve tried to give the NHS as much as we possibly can and that means, in addition to the £140bn of annual money, we’ve got another £62bn we’ve found to help support the NHS throughout the crisis.”
The PM added that he is “massively grateful” to NHS staff and social care workers, describing their efforts throughout the pandemic as “heroic”.
But the proposal has sparked a backlash, with critics labelling it as “contemptuous” after a year spent on the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic.
Unions have raised the prospect of industrial action.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN), which has called for a 12.5% pay increase for nurses, said a 1% pay rise would amount to only an extra £3.50 a week in take home pay for an experienced nurse.
Inflation is currently at 0.9%, but other unions pointed to forecast inflation of 1.5% this year to claim a 1% pay rise for NHS staff would actually amount to a real terms pay cut.
At an emergency meeting on Friday, RCN leaders voted to immediately set up a £35m industrial action fund should its members wish to go on strike.
Labour’s shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy told Sky News it was “reprehensible” that the government was not recommending a larger increase.
Speaking to Sophy Ridge on Sunday, she said: “The government, to be clear, is not planning a pay rise.
“That is a real-terms pay cut because it doesn’t keep up with inflation and for nurses to be offered a pay cut is just reprehensible in our view.”
She said ministers should offer a 2.1% rise as a “bare minimum” – the percentage which NHS Providers states was contained in the NHS long-term spending plan announced in 2018.