Ipswich MP's 'door always open' to key workers after row over meeting
- Credit: Archant
Ipswich MP Tom Hunt has said his "door will always be open" to key workers - labelling claims he refused to meet with frontline staff to discuss their pay as a "falsehood".
NHS workers will only get a 1% pay rise this year, despite the government originally budgeting for a 2.1% increase as a thank you for their heroic efforts during the pandemic.
The Trades Union Congress (TUC) in Suffolk invited Mr Hunt to meet with them and key workers to discuss their pay and conditions.
But a letter signed by Suffolk Labour councillors said he was "refusing to meet with local key workers to discuss their pay and conditions".
"This is a falsehood," Mr Hunt said - saying the reason he did not agree to the meeting was because of earlier disputes with Suffolk TUC members.
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"Yes, I'm a Member of Parliament and generally I do like to think I've got a thick skin but, like many others, I also have my own mental health that I need to think about," he said.
He added that his "door will always be open" to key workers, adding: "Throughout the pandemic I've had countless conversations with constituents who are key workers and I have written many letters on their behalf relating to their pay and conditions."
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He went on to say: "Last week, I wrote to the pay review body calling for any NHS pay rise to be focused on frontline workers.
"I'm particularly thinking about nurses and support workers, who tend to be on the lowest pay.
"I can well understand why a police officer, teacher and any other key worker for that matter would see it as unfair for their pay to be frozen at a time when highly paid NHS workers who weren't on the frontline experience a significant pay increase.
"The public finances are in a perilous position following the hundreds of billions that has been spent combating the effects on Covid-19 and I think it was right to extend the furlough scheme until September and also to extend the uplift in Universal Credit.
"Millions of people in the private sector have either lost their jobs, seen pay cuts, and most likely will not see a pay increase for a very long time to come, this is something we must be very conscious of.
"Having said this, I believe it is right and appropriate to recognise the exceptional contribution made by frontline NHS workers."
Mr Hunt also said he was "sorry to hear that Labour councillor and nurse Sarah Barber has been receiving online abuse following her appearance in a Labour Party promotional video".
He added: "I am acutely aware of the impact that abuse on social media can have on mental health.
"When we see online abuse, we need to put party politics aside and condemn it.
"With regard to the Labour Party advert in question, I think the key issue here is transparency.
"Of course Sarah is entitled to her views and the Labour Party are entitled to air them but it does feel a bit like deception if someone is being presented very much as being a non-political actor when they are in fact a Labour councillor.
"Sadly, the Labour Party have a record of doing this. Why conceal the fact Sarah is a Labour councillor?"
Mrs Barber said: "I've been a nurse for 20 years and a councillor for five.
"For me, they are not separate roles. They are both roles in which I am trying to help people and I get a great deal of satisfaction in that.
"I'm not going to be put off by this. What does worry me is that some people might see this kind of thing happening and decide they are not prepared to take on a role like this.
"That would be a great shame, because it is very worthwhile and important to communities like Ipswich."