Boris Johnson has hinted nurses could get a bigger pay rise than the 1% currently on offer to NHS staff.
Speaking at PMQs on Wednesday, Keir Starmer accused the prime minister of clapping for carers last year before choosing to “shut the door in their face at the first opportunity” with the small proposed pay increase.
“He could afford to give Dominic Cummings a 40% pay rise, he could afford that, now he is asking NHS nurses to take a real-terms pay cut,” the Labour leader said. “How on Earth does he justify that?”
In response, Johnson said the government would “look at” what the independent pay review body has to say “exceptionally about the nursing profession”.
“I believe that we all owe a massive debt to our nurses, indeed all our health care workers and our social care workers,” he said.
The government has proposed giving some NHS staff in England a 1% pay rise, despite an expectation from health bosses that it would be 2.1%.
Johnson has been under sustained pressure not only from Labour on the 1% pay offer, but from Tory MPs.
Former Conservative health minister Dan Poulter told the BBC the 1% offer was “wrong” from a “moral perspective”.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) warned it would lead to nurses quitting and threatened strike action.
On Tuesday the head of NHS England, Simon Stevens, called for health workers to be given a “proper reward” for their work during the coronavirus pandemic.
Starmer told MPs on Wednesday: “A 1% rise versus 1.7% inflation rise, that is a real-terms cut, and if the prime minister doesn’t understand that, we really are in trouble.
“They can afford to give Dominic Cummings a 40% pay rise, and they can’t afford to reward the NHS properly.
“The mask really is slipping, and we can see what the Conservative Party now stands for: cutting pay for nurses, putting taxes up for families.
“He’s had the opportunity to change course, but he’s refused. So if he’s so determined to cut NHS pay, will he at least show some courage and put it to a vote in parliament?”
An Opinium poll showed an overwhelming majority (72%) of people thought the 1% pay rise was too low.