Jeremy Corbyn vows to help underpaid and overworked nurses

Labour leader tells Royal College of Nursing conference that as PM he would scrap 1% pay cap and introduce minimum staffing levels

Jeremy Corbyn has told nurses they are underpaid, overworked and that their jobs are too stressful, as he went on the stump at the Royal College of Nursing’s annual conference.

The Labour leader pledged to introduce legally enforceable staffing levels in hospitals and bring back training bursaries for nurses. The 67-year-old also hinted that it was dangerous to force nurses to keep working until they are 68.

Corbyn told delegates in Liverpool that he knew many nurses regularly stayed late at work because of staff shortages. “I suspect pretty well everyone in this conference centre today often works well beyond the hours that you are paid for because you won’t leave until a patient has been settled, until a bed has been found or the next stage of treatment has been dealt with,” he said, adding: “The stress levels within NHS staff are absolutely huge because you believe in caring.”

In addition, Labour would end the public sector pay cap that has resulted in a 14% real-terms decrease in nursing salaries since 2010, he said. He stopped short of promising decent pay rises, pledging instead to hand back decisions on pay to an independent review body.

Corbyn has also promised to appoint a dedicated mental health minister if he becomes prime minister, who would ensure mental health is treated just as seriously as physical health.

The Labour leader was asked by one young nurse if it was safe for patients that he was expected to work until he was 68 under public sector pension reforms. “I think 68, as they say, is too late,” Corbyn replied.

Asked by another delegate how Labour would pay for its pledge to increase NHS funding by £37bn over five years, Corbyn insisted only the richest 5% of the population would foot the bill.

Corbyn said Labour’s health proposals were “fully costed and fully funded”, telling nurses that the money would be raised either by “moving existing budgets or changing taxation levels for corporates and the very top end of our society”.

Further details would be revealed in the party’s election manifesto on Tuesday, he said. “Ninety-five percent of people in this country will have no tax increase, no national insurance increase, no VAT increase … We want to make sure there is a redistribution of wealth. It can’t be right that we live in a country where the richest 100 people have assets of £600bn.”

Addressing the conference two hours later, the Liberal Democrat leader, Tim Farron, described Labour’s NHS funding plans as “fantasy numbers”, claiming money raised from the party’s mooted corporation tax increase had already been spent 11 times.

The Lib Dems have instead proposed a 1p income tax increase across the board to boost NHS funding by £48bn over five years. He said the plan would hit just the top 50% of taxpayers, as the lowest earners pay no income tax because of increases to the personal allowance made by the previous coalition government.

Talking to journalists after delivering his speech, Corbyn defended his decision to hire a former Communist party member to work on his campaign. Andrew Murray has been seconded from the Unite union, where he is chief of staff, to support Labour’s election campaign.

Corbyn insisted Murray was a “democratic socialist” with great talents: “Andrew Murray is a member of the Labour party and he is an official at Unite and he is temporarily helping us with the campaign.

“He is a person of enormous abilities and professionalism and is the head of staff of Unite the union. To manage a very large union and a large number of staff takes special skills and Andrew has them.”

• This article was amended on 17 May 2017. We originally reported Corbyn insisted Murray was a socialist democrat, this has been corrected to democratic socialist.


Helen Pidd, north of England editor, and Sian Mills

The GuardianTramp

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