The UK Government is “resolute” about not giving in over nurses’ pay even in the face of escalating strike action, according to government minister Oliver Dowden.
Speaking on the BBC programme Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg on 18 December, Cabinet Office minister Oliver Dowden reiterated the government’s position on nurses’ pay, saying that the 5% above RPI inflation pay increase that the Royal College of Nursing is asking for was “simply not affordable”.
He denied that the government was refusing to engage in further talks with nursing unions, saying that “of course the door is always open to engagement with the unions”.
But Mr Dowden insisted that the government would stick to the £1,400 pay award for most NHS nurses for 2022-23 which was accepted by the governments in England, Wales and Northern Ireland after being recommended by the independent NHS Pay Review Body.
“We have an independent process and we should adhere to that,” he said.
“We will be resolute in response to this because it will be irresponsible to allow public sector pay and inflation to get out of control”
Mr Dowden said that the government could not afford to give nurses the pay increase they were asking for because a pay rise in line with inflation for all public sector workers would cost £28bn, or £1,000 per household.
“If we applied this across the board, that would cost families £1,000 each and it would also add to inflation and make us all poorer in the long run,” Mr Dowden claimed.
This £28bn figure has previously been questioned by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which estimated that an inflation-matching pay award for all public sector employees would cost £18bn.
And an analysis by consultancy firm London Economics on behalf of the RCN published in October, showed that a 5% above RPI inflation pay rise for nurses would actually cost less than recruiting new nurses from abroad or using agency staff to fill vacancies.
However, Mr Dowden insisted that the government was being “reasonable” and “sensible” and urged unions to call off strikes.
“We will be resolute in response to this because it will be irresponsible to allow public sector pay and inflation to get out of control, and we have a wider duty to the public to ensure we keep our public finances under control,” Mr Dowden said.
He added: “We’re trying to be reasonable, we’re trying to be proportionate and we’re tyring to be fair, but in return the unions should be fair and reasonable. They should call off these strikes and give people a break.”
This reiteration of the government’s position comes as nurses are preparing for a second day of strike action organised by the RCN for Tuesday 20 December.
This follows last Thursday’s strike which saw thousands of RCN members taking to picket lines across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The initial strike went ahead after a meeting between RCN general secretary and chief executive Pat Cullen and health and social care secretary Steve Barclay ended in Ms Cullen accusing ministers of walking away from nurses.
Ahead of the meeting, Ms Cullen had said she would consider calling off strikes if Mr Barclay began serious talks about NHS pay, however the government insisted pay was not up for discussion.