NHS pay rise 2021: will the government rethink its 'miserly' 1% pay offer - and what has Labour said?

NHS England boss Sir Simon Stevens says health workers deserve a 2.1% pay rise, as ministers had initially planned

Thursday, 11th March 2021, 6:09 pm

Government plans to give NHS workers a 1% pay rise in England have been met with uproar from health unions and opposition leaders.

The proposal, which is yet to be introduced, would see health staff given a wage increase at a time when other public sector workers have had their pay frozen.

Government ministers have warned the country’s finances are under “huge pressure” because of the Covid pandemic - but critics say the 1% recommendation is “miserly”.

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Nurses and NHS workers from the campaign group NHS Workers Say No, and Unite's Guys and St Thomas Hospital Union branch, hold a socially distanced protest outside Downing Street in London over the proposed 1% pay rise from the Government. (Pic: PA)

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Why has there been outrage over a 1% NHS pay rise?

The Covid pandemic has put pressure on the public purse at the same time it has put a huge strain on the country’s National Health Service - and its workers.

At the start of the coronavirus outbreak, a weekly clap was introduced and participated by millions to show appreciation for the NHS workers on the frontline.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer speaking with NHS staff during a visit to Royal Derby Hospital. Sir Keir will target the Government's controversial 1% pay rise for NHS workers during the campaign for the May elections, declaring "a vote for Labour is a vote to support our nurses". (Pic: PA)

Now, as the Covid situation improves, many argue it is time to reward the staff who helped to treat and care for the sick during an unprecedented national crisis.

Unison general secretary Christine McAnea described it as a "miserly" offer as the public sector union called for a mass slow handclap as a show of solidarity.

Yet the government says the money isn’t there to reward health workers financially in 2021/22.

What has Labour said about the 1% NHS pay rise?

Labour have been vocal in their opposition to plans for a 1% pay rise for NHS workers.

Party leader, Sir Keir Starmer, said NHS workers should get a “fair” pay rise, “above inflation, a real rise” after claiming “a vote for Labour is a vote to support our nurses”.

“I think the starting point should be the 2.1% that was promised and was, of course, budgeted for,” said Sir Keir, who declined to back a 12.5% hike proposed by the Royal College of Nurses.

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the 1% pay rise was “morally obnoxious”.

He added: “The head of the NHS has confirmed what we already knew: the Conservatives have broken their promise to the NHS and are cutting nurses' pay.”

Will the government rethink its 1% NHS pay rise offer?

The 1% pay rise proposal was put forward by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) for the tax year 2021/22.

Prime minister Boris Johnson has defended the planned wage increase for health workers, saying it was as much as the government could afford “at the present time”.

Mr Johnson said: “What we have done is try to give them as much as we can at the present time. Don't forget that there has been a public sector pay freeze, we're in pretty tough times.”

Mr Johnson was “massively grateful” to NHS staff he called “heroic” during the pandemic.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said the rise was “proportionate, fair and reasonable”.

Will NHS England staff be offered more?

The plans to give NHS staff a 1% pay rise are not set in stone.

An independent review body negotiates NHS staff salaries and will make its recommendations in May, and, though non-binding, it could lead to a change in thinking.

The body is made up of individuals not directly attached to the NHS but others with experience in economics and employee relations who consult government, unions and other groups.

NHS England boss Sir Simon Stevens says health workers deserve a 2.1% pay rise, as ministers had initially planned, but acknowledged “things have changed”.

Stevens said: “You would expect me as the head of the health service to obviously want to see properly rewarded NHS staff, particularly given everything that the service has been through, they’ve been through, over the course of the last year.”

The group will take evidence from different groups before making its recommendation in May.