Rishi Sunak criticises Gary Neville's comments on striking workers

Claims made by former Manchester United defender have drawn criticism from the PM and media watchdog callers

Gary Neville, the former footballer who as a pundit compared reports of workers preparing for the World Cup in Qatar with the issues faced by National Health Service nurses. PA
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British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has hit back at claims made by former England footballer Gary Neville that workers in the UK were being exploited.

The former Manchester United defender became the target of criticism after he appeared to compare reports of workers preparing for the World Cup in Qatar with the issues faced by National Health Service nurses.

“I don’t think that’s right at all,” Mr Sunak said.

“If you look at our track record and my track record, as chancellor, I’ve always done everything I can to support our NHS and, indeed, the wonderful people who work in it.

“I grew up in an NHS family. I spent my life working in my mum’s pharmacy when I was younger.

"And if you look at what we did during Covid, we provided enormous support to the front line at a time, when it comes to pay, when everyone else in the public sector experienced a pay freeze.”

During ITV’s coverage of the World Cup final in Qatar, Neville, a Labour Party supporter, said: “We should detest low pay, we should detest poor accommodation and poor working conditions.

UK strikes — in pictures

“That is something we can never, ever accept in this region or in any region, and it is just worth mentioning we’ve got a current government in our country who are demonising rail workers, ambulance workers and, terrifyingly, nurses."

Mr Sunak's official spokesman said: “It is clearly not a legitimate or appropriate comparison in any way.”

Mr Sunak, speaking during a visit to Riga, said: “The one group that was singled out for special treatment were the NHS workers, rightly, who received that support but also beyond that for nurses, in particular.

"We’ve put in place nurses’ bursaries when they’re training to become nurses.

“The unions asked for a training budget once they qualified and again, as chancellor, we put that in place, to give nurses the support they need.

“So, look, I know things are difficult at the moment for people up and down the country with inflation. Of course I get that. That’s why we’ve put an enormous amount of support in place for people’s energy bills.”

He said that the government wanted to find a “sensible way through” on pay.

Nurses strike in the UK — in pictures

Media watchdog Ofcom said on Monday evening that it had received 441 complaints about the comments.

“We are assessing this content as a priority and have asked ITV provide us with details about the broadcast to inform that work,” a representative said.

The government faces a series of industrial disputes with NHS staff including nurses and ambulance workers as wages fail to keep pace with high inflation.

“I think when most people are tuning in to watch Gary Neville, they want to hear about the football and watch the football,” Mr Sunak told The Daily Mail.

“They don’t want to discuss politics.”

British nurses stage first ever strike in bitter pay dispute with government — video

Updated: December 20, 2022, 8:15 AM
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