Former Conservative health minister Dan Poulter said it is the “wrong time” to restrain the pay of NHS workers who have gone “above and beyond” during the pandemic. Dr Poulter, who has been assisting on the NHS frontline, told the BBC: “A lot of health professionals in the early part of the pandemic were working without the right equipment to protect themselves, and many people have gone above and beyond the hours they are already paid for during the pandemic and have really pulled together in very difficult circumstances. For me, this is, from a moral perspective, the wrong time to be applying pay restraint.”
However, strong support for the Government came from the influential Centre for Policy Studies.
A spokeswoman said: “Considering the impact of the pandemic on the public finances, the Chancellor is right to show restraint when it comes to pay and pensions in the public sector. Millions in the private sector won’t have any pay rise at all, or have lost their jobs, and public sector workers still benefit from a pay premium over the private sector once pensions and other benefits are taken into account.”
But NHS Providers, the organisation which represents NHS trusts in England, said it is “absolutely wrong” for ministers to renege on a pay rise it claims has already been budgeted for.
Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, told the BBC: “We are really clear that the Government had already budgeted for a pay rise of 2.1 percent, so what we are saying is – given where the NHS is at, given what frontline staff have been through – it seems absolutely wrong to take from their pocket right now a pay rise that was due to them.”
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has set up a £35million industrial action fund to support members wanting to strike and warns that a large number of nurses could leave the profession.
However, Professor Len Shackleton, a research fellow with the Institute of Economic Affairs, said his “own view” is that the one percent increase is “fair”.
Pointing to the challenges facing the economy as a result of the pandemic, he said: “[With] hundreds of thousands already having lost private sector jobs, any government is going to have to restrain pay increases.”
Prof Shackleton expects the Government will make a “higher offer”.
He said: “If they are wise they will identify the groups under most pressure and offer them a one-off bonus rather than build in a pay increase which will obviously continue into a future where we may be in even more serious economic difficulties than we are today.”
North West Leicestershire Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen defended the Government’s position, saying the one percent increase would be on top of NHS pay increments.
He said: “The whole nation appreciates what the NHS staff have done… The overwhelming majority of people in the private sector will have no pay rise at all and some people will unfortunately have lost their jobs altogether.
“Public sector has to be considered relative of the rest of the economy.”
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% for newly qualified nurses and will increase junior doctors’ pay scales by 8.2%.
“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.”