Caroline Lucas on LBC's Cross Question discussing the nurses strikes

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas has slammed the Westminster government and prime minister Rishi Sunak for failing to negotiate with the Royal College of Nursing (RCN). She made the comments on LBC‘s Cross Question on February 6, a day when nurses across England were taking strike action.

On the show, Lucas said that Sunak’s refusal to negotiate with the RCN was “unforgivable”. She said, “The idea that he won’t even get around a table to talk with the nurses I think is just unforgivable.”

She went on to criticise the government’s claim that it can’t afford a pay rise for nurses, arguing that not offering one is down to political choices. She said, “This mantra that we keep hearing that nothing can be afforded – actually, the issue of whether to pay public sector workers properly and how much to pay them is a question of political choice.

“There are things they could do – the government could do to raise money. They could, for example, stop subsidising fossil fuels to the tune of 11 billion pounds every year, our they could levy a wealth tax, or they could close the loophole in the windfall tax which currently means that fossil fuel companies are getting away pretty much scot free without having to pay very much of that so called windfall tax. So I think the issue is this is a matter of political choice.

“And I think the government should be making different choices. They should be paying nurses enough to make a decent living. They should be attracting more people into the NHS because we’ve got a massive problem when it comes to retention. I was on the picket line and speaking to my local nurses in Brighton this morning. And they are really struggling to make ends meet. They are really struggling to give the kind of care that they went into the NHS to give, because they are so short staffed, they are totally demoralised.”

She would then go on to again criticise Sunak for not negotiating with the RCN, branding this decision “an absolute slap in the face”.

Later in the show, Lucas made the case for giving public sector workers inflation matching pay rises. She pointed to the 20 per cent real terms pay cut some nurses have faced since 2010.

Lucas said, “We know that the pay of public sector workers is nowhere near keeping with inflation. And so, for example, an experienced nurse is now 20 per cent worse off than she was if she started in 2010, for example. So, people are seeing their salaries go down, their incomes go down at the same time that they have a whole load of fixed commitments – whether that’s rent or mortgages or anything else. And it’s just unsustainable. So I think we need to look much more in the round about public sector pay, and actually step up and make sure that it does keep pace with inflation.

“If we want decent public services, we have to pay for it, and I wish we’d have that conversation, instead of pretending that there’s some kind of rule from God that says that you can’t pay people more and that you can’t make different political choices. I think we should.”

The RCN has been taking strike action across England on February 6 and 7. The industrial action marks the first time that the RCN has engaged in a nation-wide strike in its history.

The RCN is campaigning for a pay rise which is 5 per cent above the rate of inflation. The RCN claims this would address the impact of the cost of living crisis, ensure people stay in the nursing profession and restore pay in the sector. Since 2010, nurses have on average seen their pay fall by 8 per cent in real terms, with that figure rising to 20 percent for some in the profession.

Opinion polling in January found that 57 per cent of the public support the nurses strikes.

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