A DUP MP has said his party could support a Labour motion in the British Houses of Parliament calling for an end to the public sector pay cap in the UK’s NHS. Ian Paisley’s comments leave the British Government facing defeat in the Commons if the motion is put to a vote.
The Government only commands a majority because of a confidence and supply arrangement with the DUP, which has said it will support the Conservatives on key legislation. Mr Paisley (North Antrim) made the comments as MPs began an opposition day debate, saying: “I must say that myself and my colleagues are minded to support the motion … put before the House this evening.”
DUP MPs were among those to sign a similar early day motion earlier this year. Earlier this week Downing Street said the seven-year public sector pay cap is to be scrapped, unveiling a 1.7% hike for prison officers and improvements totalling 2% in police pay for 2017/18.
But Britain’s shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth said the Government must not play different areas of the public sector off against each other. He said: “If the Government are indeed abandoning this cap, let us put them on notice.
“It must apply to the whole of the public sector, including the 55% of workers who are not covered by the pay review bodies. “And we also put them on warning, we will not accept a divide-and-rule approach, we will not accept playing one set of public sector workers off against another.”
Mr Ashworth also said it “wasn’t good enough” for ministers to grant more flexibility over pay and expect hospitals to fund a pay increase for staff from existing budgets. MPs told the Commons about examples of public sector workers such as ambulance technicians and nurses struggling to get by, being forced into debt or to take second jobs.
“Nurses turning to food banks, pawning their possessions, even being issued with eviction notices,” said Mr Ashworth.
“Isn’t that shameful in 21st century Britain, and what a depressing consequence of Tory economics.”
Mr Hunt labelled the motion “bogus” as he attacked Labour’s record in government.
He said: “The consequences of losing financial discipline for a government are not just pay freezes and 1% caps, but a million unemployed as a result of that recession we had post 2008. “In fact, every Labour government in modern times has left office with unemployment higher when they left office than when they arrived.
“And that is why this afternoon’s motion is so bogus because the difference between this side of the House and that side of the House is not about a desire to invest in public services, it is the ability to deliver a strong economy so that we can make that investment.”
Mr Hunt also told MPs that he agreed it was “incredibly important to have motivated staff”; that it was “critical for patient safety” to have enough staff and that it is “very tough on the front line” at the moment. But he said it was “absolute nonsense” that the 1% cap over the last seven years was “austerity” or an “ideological mission” by the Tories to “reduce the size of the state”.
The Labour motion is non-binding. If MPs back it during a vote, then it will represent a symbolic defeat for the Government – although it will not automatically force it to change policy.