A former Conservative health minister has said that it’s the “wrong time” to be restraining the pay of NHS workers who have gone “above and beyond” during the pandemic.
The “wrong time”
In a sign that a Conservative rebellion over the government’s 1% pay rise recommendation may be brewing, MP Dr Dan Poulter has called for a rethink on the proposal.
Poulter has been assisting on the NHS front line during the pandemic. He said it’s “very valid” for ministers to turn their attention to paying back the £400bn borrowed during the coronavirus crisis – but it is the “wrong time to be making this decision”.
Although the idea that the government has “borrowed” such vast sums during the pandemic is disputed by financial experts like Richard Murphy:
How many times this week will we hear the lie that the government has borrowed £300bn to pay for Covid? It hasn’t. It has issued debt, but then immediately repurchased it using new money created by the Bank of England. This debt has already been repaid in that case, for good.
— Richard Murphy (@RichardJMurphy) February 28, 2021
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Poulter told BBC Radio 4’s Today:
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.
Poulter called on ministers to accept whatever the health service pay review body recommends in terms of a salary increase. And he argued it would be “counterproductive economically to squeeze permanent wages” as it’s caused the NHS agency bill to balloon in the past.
Senior Tory backbenchers Roger Gale and Andrew Percy are among those to have broken ranks to criticise the 1% decision in recent days.
Labour has argued the pay recommendation amounts to a “real terms cut” to wages. That’s considering the Office for Budget Responsibility is predicting inflation will rise to 1.5% in the coming year.
Our NHS staff protected us.
The Conservatives are cutting their pay. pic.twitter.com/A0Myx8gVZP
— Keir Starmer (@Keir_Starmer) March 5, 2021
Meanwhile, shadow health minister Alex Norris said the bid to “balance the budget” on the back of an NHS pay reduction seems “a very strange set of priorities”.
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