Theresa May has been lambasted by nursing chiefs and Labour MPs for failing to explicitly say whether or not it is wrong that nurses in Britain should have to turn to food banks for meals.
The Prime Minister was pressed on the issue by Andrew Marr on his eponymous BBC show.
The presenter quoted figures from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), which suggest nurses have had an effective 14% pay cut since 2010, when inflation is taken into account.
He went on: “I get stories again from the RCN of lots of ordinary nurses, by the end of the week, having to use food banks because they can’t afford to pay for food.
“That is not the kind of country you want to run, is it?”
Mrs May replied: “I want a country that works for everyone, not the privileged few. If we look at what is happening in relation to pay within the NHS, in fact when you look at basic pay together with progression pay, actually for around half of NHS staff they have an annual increase of around, on average, 3%, rather than just the 1% basic pay.”
The presenter asked again: “I’m sorry Prime Minister but we have nurses going to food banks at the moment, that must be wrong?”
Mrs May replied: “There are many complex reasons why people go to food banks, and I want to develop an economy where, yes, we have a strong economy so we can pay for the public services that people need.
“But also we have an economy where we’re creating secure jobs, and well-paid jobs, and higher paid jobs for people.”
RCN chief executive Janet Davies criticised Mrs May and said the 1% cap on public sector basic pay increases was “fuelling a recruitment and retention crisis” that is risking patient safety.
“Theresa May was explicitly asked to admit that it is wrong for nurses to be forced to use food banks in 2017,” Ms Davies said.
“Not only did she fail to acknowledge it is wrong, she failed to even mention nurses or their work in her reply. Nurses should not have to fund the NHS deficit from their own pay packets. Too many are struggling to make ends meet, turning to food banks and hardship grants in desperation.
“Every year that the Government holds NHS pay below inflation, hundreds of thousands of nurses get another real-terms cut to their salary.”
Labour MPs also seized on the PM’s comments.
Former minister Angela Eagle took to Twitter to criticise Mrs May’s “appalling refusal to recognise the human cost of Tory cuts”.
Senior Labour figure Yvette Cooper posted: “This is Theresa May’s style – rigid rhetoric far from reality, from school budgets to nurses pay, Brexit to tax”.