The government has tried to give “as much as possible” to NHS staff after recommending a 1% pay increase, the prime minister said.
The proposal sparked discussion of industrial action and demonstrations were planned across England on Sunday, including high-ranking Conservatives.
An Opinium poll conducted on Friday and Saturday found that 72% of the population think the wage recommendation is too low, including 58% of Tory voters.
However, Boris Johnson defended the decision during a visit to a vaccination center in Brent, north London.
The Prime Minister told broadcasters: “I am very grateful to all the NHS staff and social workers who have been heroic during the pandemic.
“We tried to give them as much as possible.
“The independent wage review board will obviously look at what we have proposed and come back.
“Don’t forget that there has been a wage freeze in the public sector. We are in pretty difficult times.”
Dame Donna Kinnair, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), accused Mr Johnson of “failing to understand the situation” and said his wage defense would lead to nurses leaving the profession.
“If there are already tens of thousands of vacant nurse jobs in the NHS, he’ll be pushing more at the door this weekend,” said the union’s general secretary.
The comments come after Education Secretary Gavin Williamson suggested that the government turn to public sector cuts to reclaim pandemic spending at a time of “restraint.”
Mr Williamson said ministers had “put forward what we can afford” for nurses during “tough economic challenges” after the government borrowed £ 400 billion during its response to the coronavirus crisis.
Teachers and others in the public sector will face a wage freeze, with NHS staff being the only group to be released after their efforts during the epidemic, he said.
The Cabinet Secretary told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday, “We all know this is a time to ensure we exercise restraint across the public sector.”
Labor called the NHS salary recommendation “objectionable”, arguing that a 2.1% wage increase was budgeted and enacted in January 2020 when the NHS’s long-term spending plans were voted on in the House of Commons.
Senior conservatives, including former Minister of Health Dr. Dan Poulter, who worked on the front lines of the NHS during the pandemic, have also broken ranks in recent days to criticize the 1% decision.
A demonstration in Manchester against the salary proposals drew around 40 people, according to the Greater Manchester police.
This resulted in the arrest and fine of a 65-year-old woman, while the organizer faces a fixed £ 10,000 fine for violating lockdown rules, police said.
Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy said the ministers’ recommended increase for independent wage authorities is a “real wage cut” as inflation outstrips it.
A newly qualified nurse earning a salary of £ 24,907 would face a real cut of £ 174, according to Labor, as the increase progresses.
Labor Ms. Nandy told Sky News: “We believe nurses deserve a raise this year and that should never have been negotiated – this is a government whose priorities are completely wrong.
“If they can give a 50% raise to a special adviser (Dominic Cummings) who has broken the rules, but then offer our nurses a real cut, this is a government that just doesn’t understand who is going to get us through Crisis. “
The observer reported that many Tory MPs now believe that the 1% offer will be re-examined if the NHS wage review agencies recommend salary levels for health care workers in May.
Both the Prime Minister and the Education Minister stressed the importance of the independent review process in interviews on Sunday.
Mr Williamson also stressed that “no one wants to see industrial action” after the RCN pledged to set up a £ 35 million fund to support members who want to strike over the raise.
Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth also said he believes nurses don’t want to join the picket line.
“I know nurses, they don’t want to go on strike,” he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.
“I will always support the right of employees to take industrial action, but we don’t want to get to this place. So the government has to drop this 1% wage increase, which is a wage cut.”
It comes as Labor announced it would vote against freezing the budgetary income tax break threshold.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced last week that he would keep the tax exemption threshold at the 2021/22 level for five years, which, according to the British fiscal watchdog, will bring an additional million people into the tax system.
“We believe now is the absolutely wrong time to get low- and middle-income families over to tax hikes and squeeze their incomes,” Ms. Nandy told Sky News.