NHS staff deserve “fair” pay with soaring costs taken into account, Sajid Javid said, as he defended pay rises in line with inflation for pensioners but not for workers.
The Health Secretary said his department would listen carefully to the independent NHS pay review body before setting salary increases.
He told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme: “Of course, part of showing the value we attach to whether it’s nurses or other health workers is, of course it is pay, and so along with the thanks we’ve got to make sure that we are fair in pay.
“And that is why for example last year, whilst there was a freeze on all public sector pay, there was no freeze on NHS pay; it went up by 3% despite the challenges at the time.
“Now this year’s pay rise, I can’t tell you right now what it’s going to be but what I can tell you is that we will listen carefully to the independent pay review body, which by the way, rightly also, as well as inflation, takes into account retention and many other sensible factors.
“And it will report back to me as Secretary of State, we will take that into account and we will respond.”
Asked if he was worried about a summer of discontent in the health service, Mr Javid said: “Whatever your job is, everyone’s feeling this challenge and it’s right that the Government responds and tries to help in any way that it can”.
He was played a clip of a 29-year-old nurse who said health workers were living “month-to-month” and struggling to pay the bills, with many likely to move away from the NHS into better-paid jobs.
Mr Javid conceded that “she does have a point”, before telling her and other NHS workers: “Thank you for what you do”.
It comes after the Treasury confirmed that the triple lock on pensions would be reinstated, and as the Government has insisted that public sector workers receiving pay rises in line with inflation would further stoke rising prices.
Retirees are set to see double-digit payments increases next year as the state pension will be determined based on September’s CPI inflation, while workers face a real-terms pay cut.
Mr Javid defended the move, saying: “I understand the decision to make sure the basic state pension is rising by inflation because elderly people, particularly those that are relying on the basic state pension as their main source of income compared to other members of society, they can be particularly vulnerable to changes in the cost of living.
“So I think it’s right that we think about the most vulnerable at this time”.