A former Cabinet minister’s comments asking why nurses on £35,000 a year are using food banks have been branded “disgusting, heartless and out of touch” by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN).
Speaking on BBC Radio Tees, Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland Tory MP Simon Clarke told nurses “something is wrong with your budgeting” if they are relying on handouts.
The Liz Truss supporter, who was secretary of state for levelling up under her brief premiership, told the radio station the debate over nurses’ pay is now “way out of hand”.
He said: “I’m afraid if you are using a food bank and you are earning the average nurse’s salary of £35,000 a year then something is wrong with your budgeting, because £35,000 a year is not a salary on which you ought to be relying on a food bank.”
Citing the Nursing Times as his source, he told the station £35,000 is the median nurse’s salary and added: “My message is everyone needs to take responsibility in their lives.
“I don’t believe people on an average salary of £35,000 a year need to be using food banks.”
RCN general secretary Pat Cullen said: “To criticise anybody using a food bank is disgusting, heartless and dangerously out of touch.
“I have toured the length and breadth of this country and met nursing staff from every corner of the nation – and their fear and fright about not being able to meet their bills is palpable.
“Sky-high inflation means some nursing staff are living on a financial knife edge and even their own employer, NHS trusts across the country, are being forced to open food banks to feed their staff.
“This is not their fault – every nurse out there spends their professional and personal lives looking at how they can make savings, how they can treat more patients with less staff, how they can make their ever-decreasing budget stretch further.
“When nurses are having to pay hundreds of pounds a month just to get to work, can’t afford to put food on the table and are forced to cut back on shifts because they can’t afford ever-increasing childcare costs, something is seriously wrong.”
Unison’s head of health Sara Gorton said: “These comments show no understanding of people’s circumstances and little grasp of the sums they’re paid.
“As well as insulting health staff, he’s also missing the point. A pay rise is needed to stop the workforce exodus, get the NHS back on track and ensure patients can get the treatment they need.”
After his comments were widely shared, Mr Clarke said: “I am very clear that we all owe nurses a great debt of admiration for the vital work they deliver on our behalf.
“However, it is vital that we recognise that a 19% pay increase is simply not realistic.
“It would not be fair to the taxpaying public and it would worsen and prolong the inflation challenge.”