Budget 2021: Denying NHS workers pay rise 'kick in teeth', Labour says

26 February 2021, 01:03 | Updated: 26 February 2021, 22:36

NHS workers protested their pay in London last September
NHS workers protested their pay in London last September. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Denying NHS workers a pay rise in next week's Budget would be a "kick in the teeth" after months fighting Covid-19 on the frontline, Labour has said.

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth condemned reports that Chancellor Rishi Sunak was not planning to include a pay boost for health workers in England.

The i newspaper wrote that NHS staff in England will not see a decision made on their salaries until May, following a review by the NHS Pay Review Body.

It comes despite warnings that leaving a pay rise for health workers out the Budget could cause an exodus among frontline staff.

Responding to the report, Mr Ashworth said: "Our NHS staff deserve a fair pay rise.

"If Rishi Sunak next week refuses it will be kick in the teeth to our brave hardworking NHS heroes."

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The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) warned that a low-level pay rise, similar to that given to other public sector workers last year, will not stop nursing staff from leaving the profession after the coronavirus pandemic, which would leave patients to "pay the price".

Meanwhile, the Times reported that Mr Sunak is drawing up plans for a "stealth tax" on wealthy pensioners by freezing the lifetime allowance at just over £1 million.

Former Brexit secretary David Davis is among those warning the chancellor against raising taxes, suggesting that it would lead to the loss of constituencies in the north of England.

The Daily Telegraph quotes a Treasury source as saying that Mr Sunak will call for "honesty" about the need to eventually bring down wartime levels of spending in his Budget speech.

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Former prime minister David Cameron warned Mr Sunak that tax rises "wouldn't make any sense at all" as the nation opens back up from the coronavirus lockdown.

But Tory former chancellor Lord (Philip) Hammond urged Boris Johnson to risk unpopularity by telling the public "some difficult home truths" about the damage the pandemic has caused to the economy.

Downing Street has warned Conservative MPs they could lose the party whip if they vote against the Budget, amid suggestions there may be a rebellion over a possible increase to corporation tax.

No spending or taxation plans have been confirmed ahead of Wednesday's Budget, but The Times reported that officials are considering plans to increase corporation tax from 19 per cent to 25 per cent.

Shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds said increasing corporation tax in the Budget would be the "wrong decision" by the government and questioned the need for "immediate" changes to the tax system.

Her comments to the Institute of Global Prosperity at University College London came after Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said "now is not the time" for tax increases.

The prime minister's press secretary, Allegra Stratton, told reporters that No10 would consider votes against the government's Budget by Tory MPs as a confidence issue, meaning they could be stripped of the whip.

Mr Cameron, who is no longer a Conservative MP, warned against tax rises as he defended his own austerity policies, telling US broadcaster CNN: "Today we do face very different circumstances.

"So piling, say, tax increases on top of that before you've even opened up the economy wouldn't make any sense at all.

"I think it's been right for the government here in the UK and governments around the world to recognise this is more like a sort of wartime situation."

There has already been significant speculation about what Mr Sunak will announce, including reports that he could relaunch the Eat Out to Help Out scheme.

Vouchers for high street shoppers have also been suggested, as has bringing in lower alcohol duty for restaurants and pubs in recognition that the sector will continue to be impacted by restrictions until early summer.

It has also been reported that the chancellor may extend the stamp duty tax holiday by three months to stimulate the property market, as well as the business rates holiday.

He is also under pressure to extend the furlough scheme to protect jobs - due to end on 30 April - as well as create a £20-a-week rise in Universal Credit.

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