Sunak hits out at Gary Neville after pundit’s comments on striking workers

Rishi Sunak said people wanted the former Manchester United star’s views on football, not politics.
Sunak hits out at Gary Neville after pundit’s comments on striking workers

By David Hughes and Dominic McGrath, PA Political Staff

Rishi Sunak has hit back at former England footballer Gary Neville over claims workers in the UK were being exploited.

The ex-Manchester United defender was criticised after appearing to compare the plight of workers involved in the World Cup in Qatar with the issues faced by NHS nurses.

The British prime minister told broadcasters: “I don’t think that’s right at all.”

“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 frontline 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, Neville – a Labour Party supporter – said: “We should detest low pay, we should detest poor accommodation and poor working conditions.

“That is something we can never, ever accept that 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.”

He added: “We can’t have people being paid an absolute pittance to work, we can’t have people in accommodation which is unsavoury and disgusting.

“That shouldn’t happen here (in Qatar) with the wealth that exists. But it shouldn’t happen in our country, that our nurses are having to fight for an extra pound or an extra two pounds either.”

The prime minister’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 UK government wanted to find a “sensible way through” on pay.

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

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

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.

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

“They don’t want to discuss politics.”

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