That was the simple question I put to the Prime Minister last week. Shamefully, he couldn’t bring himself to give a straight answer.
Perhaps that’s because Boris Johnson and his Conservative Party saw fit to give Cummings – their rule-breaker in chief – a 40 per cent pay rise, before telling NHS nurses to take a real-terms pay cut.
There are over 125,000 NHS staff in Yorkshire. There are over 33,000 nurses, as well as thousands of paramedics and midwives. And Boris Johnson wants to cut their pay.
It’s unjustifiable. It’s insulting. And it’s wrong. The Prime Minister is doing everything he can to take credit for the vaccine rollout whilst cutting the pay of the NHS staff who are actually delivering it.
Like many people across the country, that angers me. The NHS is deeply personal to me. My mum was a nurse, my sister was a nurse and my wife works in the NHS. I know what our NHS and care workers have gone through during this pandemic.
But it’s not just about the last 12 months. For too long, nurses and other NHS staff have been underpaid and undervalued. For too long, the list of job vacancies has been growing. For too long, our care homes have been an afterthought.
We have a major set of elections this May. Local councils across Yorkshire will be elected, as will the new West Yorkshire Mayor and local Police and Crime Commissioners. Last Thursday, I launched Labour’s campaign with a clear message: a vote for Labour in May is a vote to support our nurses, to rebuild social care and reward our key workers.
Boris Johnson and his Conservatives were elected in 2019 on a promise to “level up” the country. If that promise means anything, surely it should mean giving a fair pay rise to nurses who have seen their average salaries slashed by over £2,300 in real terms since the Tories took power in 2010?
Boris Johnson doesn’t think so. In fact, his proposals would see nurses’ cut pay by hundreds of pounds more after inflation. So, don’t listen to what the Conservatives say; watch what they do. Instead of real action to tackle regional inequality, we’ve had sporadic pots of money handed out by Ministers without a clear rationale or transparency.
Remember, this is the party that promised to “unleash Britain’s potential” at the last election. I think people in Yorkshire who voted Conservative on that promise would be bemused to see those funding pots spent on restoring a medieval castle in the East Midlands instead of on towns in Yorkshire which have been long starved of investment.
And those voters might be suspicious when they found out that the castle in question happens to be found in the constituency of the Communities Secretary who controls the scheme. Yet again, it’s one rule for them, and another for everyone else.
Meanwhile, senior Conservatives claim we shouldn’t be giving nurses a pay rise because some workers in the private sector have, tragically, suffered pay cuts or lost jobs during this pandemic. Aside from the fact that nurses have already suffered a decade of real terms pay cuts under the Tories, this is looking at the problem upside down.
Instead of focusing on how to recover the pay of private sector workers, or properly support those who become unemployed, the Conservative Party’s answer is to cut the pay of NHS and other public sector workers. That’s not levelling up, it’s levelling down.
This is not an either/or. If I were Prime Minister, I would give our NHS and other front-line workers a fair pay rise And I’d do more to protect jobs and incomes in the private sector, too.
Every vote in May’s elections is a chance to show the Conservatives that the British people value our NHS and our key workers so much more than this government does.
It’s a chance to vote against the Conservatives’ planned tax rises on British families. They are forcing council tax rises and income tax changes onto families at a crucial time in our economic recovery.
And it’s a chance to end the regional imbalances that hold so many people back. To breathe new life into our towns and high streets. To give our children opportunities and back British businesses to create the jobs of the future.
This is a different Labour Party. We’re offering people a more secure and prosperous future. And a fair reward to the key workers who got us through this crisis.
Sir Keir Starmer is leader of the Labour Party.
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