Sir Keir Starmer clashes with Boris Johnson over nurses' pay at PMQs

10 March 2021, 13:21

By Joe Cook

Boris Johnson has clashed with Sir Keir Starmer over the planned one percent pay rise for nurses, in a defensive Prime Ministers Questions for the Tory leader.

All six of Mr Starmer’s questions were on NHS workers’ pay, accusing the PM of clapping for carers last year before choosing to "shut the door in their face at the first opportunity" via the one percent pay rise.

The Labour leader questioned Mr Johnson on “how on earth” he could justify giving his former adviser Dominic Cummings a 40 percent pay rise last year, and now ask “NHS nurses to take a real-terms pay cut”.

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Sir Keir Starmer accused Boris Johnson of a "broken promise" over NHS pay, telling the Commons: "Time and time again he said the NHS wouldn't pay the price for this pandemic.”

"Frankly, I'd take the Prime Minister a bit more seriously if he hadn't spent £2.6 million of taxpayers' money on a Downing Street TV studio or £200,000 on new wallpaper for his flat. They say charity starts at home but I think the Prime Minister is taking it a bit too literally,” he added.

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But the PM defended his government’s spending record on the NHS and highlighted an increase in nurse and healthcare numbers.

“We owe a massive debt as a society and I personally to the nurses of our NHS,” he told MPs.

"And that is why we've asked the public sector pay review body exceptionally to look at their pay.

"I want to stress, however, as the House knows, that starting salaries for nurses have gone up by 12.8% over the last three years and it is thanks to the package that this government has put in place that we now have 10,600 more nurses in our NHS than there were one year ago and 60,000 more in training."

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A recent poll by Opinium and The Observer found 72 percent of the public believe the pay rise should be more generous, including 58 percent of Conservative votes.

This figure is 4 points higher than the number of people who thought Dominic Cummings should have resigned after his trip to Barnard Castle.

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Mr Johnson also rejected Sir Keir’s suggestion that NHS staff will be "hundreds of pounds worse off a year" because of the Budget, which offers nurses a 1 percent pay rise compared to expected inflation of 1.7 percent.

On Monday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock swerved questions from MPs over the recommendation to give NHS workers in England a 1% pay rise.

Junior health minister Helen Whately was sent in his place to respond to an urgent question from Labour.

Shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth had demanded Mr Hancock appear in the House of Commons to make a statement on the recommendations.

Ms Whately later accused opposition MPs of "fuelling the level of anger by calling a pay rise a pay cut", adding: "NHS staff are getting a pay rise."

But senior Conservative MP Robert Halfon told the Commons: "Whilst absolutely recognising the economic constraints and the £2 trillion debt that our country owes, will she reconsider and at least propose a larger increase for lower-paid NHS workers?"

Ms Whately, in her reply, said: "We've submitted to the pay review body our envelope for funding the 1% the Government says it can afford and we will be looking at their recommendations when they come back."

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Ahead of the urgent question, on Monday, Downing Street declined to rule out a one-off bonus for NHS workers amid continued anger over the pay recommendation.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "We have been clear that we think the 1% pay rise is what is affordable.

"I'm not going to comment on speculation. We've set out what we think is affordable, it's now for the pay review body to look at that and look at the other evidence and come forward with their recommendation."