George Eustice stressed it was a “difficult public finance environment,” after Dua Lipa used her Brit Awards acceptance speech to call for an NHS pay rise.
The singer, who picked up the female solo artist award, called on Boris Johnson to give frontline staff a “fair pay rise”, adding: "It’s very good to clap for them, but we need to pay them.”
The Prime Minister has previouslydefended his plans to give some NHS staff in England a one per cent pay rise, saying they were giving “as much as we can” in “tough times”.
However, the Environment Secretary faced tough questions in response to the popstar’s speech in front on an audience of NHS staff.
During a grilling, Mr Eustice initially said it was not an increase in “real terms” but then said it was a “modest increase in cash terms.”
Mr Eustice told BBC Breakfast: “There’s been a pay rise that was announced, there’s been a pay freeze for most of the public sector and it’s also important to recognise that in recent years there has been some pay rises as well, particularly for nurses and the lower paid.
“We know that it’s a difficult public finance environment as well – so you can’t always go as far as you like but it’s also the case that there is a pay review that’s going on into the NHS.”
The Government recommended in March that NHS staff in England should receive a one per cent pay increase this year, while many other public sector workers will have their pay frozen.
When it was pointed out that the one per cent pay increase would likely be a below inflation rise, Mr Eustice replied: “There is a pay review that is going on and when that concludes these things can be looked at again, but that initial pay rise is something that was made available for NHS. In most other parts of the public sector it was actually a pay freeze during these difficult times.”
Asked if he accepted that the one per cent was technically a pay cut, he replied: “The way that these things are calculated, if it’s lower than inflation then yes…in real terms it is not an increase.
“But it is an increase in cash terms and it is and that is one of the few areas of the public sector that has seen such an increase.”
Pressed whether that was acceptable, he replied: “It’s an increase that no other part of the public sector has had. It is – yes – a modest increase but you have to put it in the context of other increases that there have been in recent years and the huge increase in spending that we’ve put into the NHS.”
When it was put to him that he initially said it was not an increase and then described it as a “modest increase”, he replied: “Well it’s a modest increase in cash terms.”
During her acceptance speech, Lipa said: "I think what we should do is we should all give a massive, massive round of applause and give Boris a message that we all support a fair pay rise for our front line."