Michael Gove Slaps Down Tory MP Who Said Nurses Using Food Banks Should Budget Better

Michael Gove has slapped down a Tory MP who suggested that nurses were using foodbanks because of poor budgeting.

Former Cabinet minister Simon Clarke has been criticised for telling nurses on a £35,000 annual salary that something was “wrong” with their budgeting if they were reliant on foodbanks.

Today marks the second day of strike action by nurses this week as their dispute with the government over pay and working conditions shows no sign of resolution.

Unions have warned that nurses are increasingly turning to foodbanks as the cost of living crisis bites into their wages, which they argue have decreased in real terms over the past decade.

Asked by Kay Burley on Sky News whether he agreed that nurses were “excellent at saving lives but hopeless with their finances”, Gove replied: “No, I would never put it that way.

“I think we appreciate that nurses, everyone who’s working on the front line in the national health service, is doing an amazing job, and my thanks and gratitude to nurses today is something I want to express very deeply and personally.”

“I also think that when we’re looking at the pay claims that are being made by people within the national health service, and also people in other parts of the public sector, we have to balance making sure we do everything we can to reward them for their hard work with recognising that we also have to be careful stewards of public money overall.”

Gillian Keegan, the education secretary, has also faced a backlash after suggesting that people could be turning to foodbanks because “something will have broken down – either a relationship or boiler or anything”.

Pressed on whether his colleagues had been wrong to criticise nurses for the way they manage their money, the levelling up secretary replied: “I would never criticise nurses for something like that.

“I think the most important thing to do is to recognise that people who are working in the NHS are people who’ve dedicated their lives to a caring profession, they’re doing everything they can to support us.”

Clarke, himself a former levelling up secretary, said on Twitter this morning that he “100%” stood behind his comments.

The MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland told BBC Radio Tees on Wednesday that the debate over nurses’ pay is now “way out of hand”.

“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.”

As well as the strikes this week, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has also announced that its members will walk out on February 6 and 7 unless progress is made on pay talks with the government.

Ambulance workers and emergency call handlers will also take to the picket lines on February 6 in a bid to persuade ministers to “get serious on pay”.

Asked whether it was responsible for nurses and ambulance staff to strike on the same day, Gove said:  “Naturally we would prefer for there not to any strikes at all and we prefer there not to be co-ordinated strike action of this kind.

“I just say two things, the first is that I am conscious ambulance workers, nurses and others, when they do go on strike action, and I don’t approve of it, I have to say, but they do take steps in order to ensure they can look after the most urgency emergency cases.

“The second thing I would say is we are introducing legislation to make sure that there is a minimum service level, that should provide people with peace of mind that there will always be an NHS there for them, and indeed other blue light services that they need.”