On 28 June 2017, all 10 DUP MPs voted against an amendment on the Queen’s Speech, to end the public sector pay cap. On 13 September 2017, Ian Paisley MP spoke in favour of the passed motion to lift the pay cap in the NHS. However, as a result of the devolved Agenda for Change arrangement, the agreed pay awards do not automatically extend to NHS nurses in Northern Ireland.

Pile of loose UK money with banknotes and coins alongside a simple calculator with blank readout on white viewed high angle

Did DUP MPs vote against pay rise for nurses, firefighters, and police officers?

In tweet posted on Twitter in 2017 (which has been retweeted again recently), Shehab Khan claimed that Conservative and DUP MPs voted against a pay rise for nurses, firefighters, and police officers:

The central claim of this tweet has been republished and shared widely recently in various forms on Facebook. For example, a version that focuses on ten MPs from Northern Ireland was published:

The public sector pay policy was described at the Autumn Statement (2011):

“The Government will … set public sector pay awards at an average of one per cent for each of the two years after the current pay freeze comes to an end. Departmental budgets will be adjusted in line with this policy, with the exception of the health and schools budgets, where the money saved will be recycled.” (pg 68-69)

In response to the Queen’s Speech, on 29 June 2017 Jeremy Corbyn MP introduced an amendment, “… to end the public sector pay cap …”

MPs voted down the amendment, 323-309, a majority of 14. From Northern Ireland, all ten DUP MPs voted against the amendment: Gregory Campbell MP, Nigel Dodds MP, Jeffrey Donaldson MP, Paul Girvan MP, Ian Paisley MP, Emma Little Pengelly MP, Gavin Robinson MP, Jim Shannon MP, David Simpson MP, and Sammy Wilson MP.  Lady (Sylvia) Hermon MP (Independent) voted for the amendment.

The DUP have since argued that their vote against the amendment was on the principle of Parliament not taking on the responsibility of the NHS Pay Review Body.

Pay Review Bodies

Pay caps are informed by Pay Review Bodies (PRBs). The current eight bodies began being introduced from 1971, and are responsible for providing independent advice to government on pay for certain groups of public sector workers.

Recent research also describes how ministers issue PRBs for their specific remits. The PRBs commission research and receive representations, then evaluate the area in focus, and make their recommendations in a report submitted to Government, which may then be put before Parliament. The Government will then announce its response to those recommendations.


8 June 2017: UK general election 

The election result from Northern Ireland was: DUP, 10 MPs; Sinn Fein, 7 MPs; and 1 independent MP.

21 June 2017: The Queen’s Speech

HM Queen Elizabeth delivered her Most Gracious Speech to both Houses of Parliament.

26 June 2017: Confidence and Supply Agreement

A Confidence and Supply Agreement was agreed between the Conservative Party and the DUP.

28 June 2017: DUP vote against motion to end pay cap

Labour moved an amendment to the 2017 Queen’s Speech, calling on the Government to end the pay cap:

“… but respectfully regret that the Gracious Speech fails to end cuts to the police and the fire service; commend the response of the emergency services to the recent terrorist attacks and to the Grenfell Tower fire; call on the Government to recruit more police officers and fire-fighters; and further call on the Government to end the public sector pay cap and give the emergency and public services a fair pay rise.”

MPs voted down the amendment to end the cuts and pay restraint, by 323 votes to 309, a majority of 14.
The DUP, who had 10 MPs, voted the same way as the Conservative Party — against the amendment on the Queen’s Speech — as part of their Confidence and Supply Deal: “The DUP agrees to support the government on all motions of confidence; and on the Queen’s Speech; the Budget; finance bills; money bills, supply and appropriation legislation and Estimates.”

12 September 2017: UK Government declare >1% pay award for police and prison officers

On 12 September 2017, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Elizabeth Truss MP, indicated that the 2018/19 remits for the Pay Review Bodies may allow flexibility to depart from the 1% cap in “some parts of the public sector”.

The statement announced police and prison officer pay awards for 2017/18. Prison officers received an average 1.7% rise, while police received a 1% rise, plus a 1% bonus for the year.

13 September 2017: DUP support motion to lift public sector pay cap in the NHS

Jonathan Ashworth MP moved a motion calling on the UK Government to end the public sector pay gap in the NHS:

“That this House notes that in 2017-18 NHS pay rises have been capped at one per cent and that this represents another below-inflation pay settlement; further notes that applications for nursing degrees have fallen 23 per cent this year; notes that the number of nurses and midwives joining the Nursing and Midwifery Council register has been in decline since March 2016 and that in 2016-17 45 per cent more UK registrants left the register than joined it; and calls on the Government to end the public sector pay cap in the NHS and give NHS workers a fair pay rise.”

Ian Paisley MP (DUP) spoke in favour of the motion: “We will support the motion if this matter goes to a vote tonight…”

Mr Paisley also raised the point of nursing staff vacancies in Northern Ireland, which he explained is being addressed by ensuring the retention of a bursary. He also remarked on the “dramatic and significant” pay differences for nurses between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

Lady Sylvia Hermon MP (Ind) also spoke on the motion:

“I am really pleased to hear what the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) has said today, but I want to put it on the record that DUP Members did have an earlier opportunity to support the removal of the pay cap but actually voted against that—all 10 of them—in the debate on the Queen’s Speech. An amendment was tabled by the colleagues of the hon. Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth), and the DUP voted it down, but we always welcome repentance.”

The motion passed the House of Commons without a vote.

15 September 2017: Unions call for 3.9% pay rise plus £800 for a million NHS staff

On 15 September 2017, 14 unions delivered a joint letter to the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, asking him to give a pay rise of almost 4% to  around a million NHS workers, plus a one-off payment of £800 to compensate for the money they lost out on during the austerity era.

22 November 2017: NHS budget pledge

On 22 November 2017, in the 2017 Autumn Budget, the Government “reconfirmed the ending of the 1% pay policy”. Letters to Pay Review Bodies were subsequently sent out on 7 December 2017. Each contained a similar statement — “the Government has adopted a more flexible approach to public sector pay” — i.e. reiterating the move away from the 1% pay cap policy.

On the same day, the Chancellor announced that the Government will fund pay awards for nurses and other Agenda for Change staff. However, the subsequent NHS pay deal wasn’t implemented in Northern Ireland, due to the Agenda for Change (AfC) (the current National Health Service (NHS) grading and pay system) arrangement since 1 July 2018, which applies to NHS staff in England only. The devolved administrations of Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland are able to consider how to implement The Framework Agreement on the Reform of Agenda for Change, in light of funding available under the Barnett Formula. In the case of Northern Ireland, there has been no Northern Ireland Executive since the Northern Ireland Assembly collapsed in 2017. Talks have been ongoing between the health unions and the Department of Health’s permanent secretary, Richard Pengelly. On 7 November 2019, the Royal College of Nursing voted to strike over staffing issues and pay.

Image: Photo by Matthew Kay used by license Dreamstime.com

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