Prime minister Boris Johnson insisted that the rise was the maximum affordable when it was announced earlier this year, with the recently-resigned health secretary, Matt Hancock, dismissing in parliament suggestions that the amount barely covered the rate of inflation.
The issue has been a considerable point of contention nationally, including a warning from the Royal College of Nursing, whose general secretary, Dame Donna Kinnair, claimed that “warm words for nurses are not going to cut it.”
Opposition parties and large swathes of the public have pointed to the National Health Service (NHS) as an underappreciated symbol of poor government funding.
Now Murray, who donated half of his winnings for triumphing at a virtual tournament at the height of the pandemic to the NHS – has used the immediate aftermath of a memorable victory at Wimbledon to play to the crowd.
“I think the whole country kind of realized how important they all are, and that they maybe hadn’t got the recognition that they probably deserve up until now,” said the former All England champion, praising the invitation of healthcare workers to this year’s championships.
“It’s fantastic that they have been able to come along and watch some of the tennis. Hopefully they can enjoy it and hopefully the politicians can realise that they deserve more than what they are getting paid just now.
“What is it, they got something like a one percent pay rise? It was pathetic. They obviously deserve a lot more than that. They have done an amazing job getting us through the pandemic.”
Johnson was treated by NHS staff when he was hospitalized with Covid-19 last year. “What we have done is try to give them as much as we can at the present time,” he insisted, when asked about the rise on a visit to a vaccination centre.
“Don’t forget that there has been a public sector pay freeze. We’re in pretty tough times.”
Hancock called himself a “huge fan” of the NHS workforce. “The NHS was carved out of the pay freeze that has been applied due to the enormous pressure on the public finances, that has been applied to everyone else in the public sector,” he said when questioned at Westminster.
“We put in place evidence reflecting what is affordable and we, of course, will study what the pay review body says.”
“Inflation is below one percent and therefore a proposed one percent pay rise is indeed a pay rise and that’s simply a matter of fact.”
Murray’s remarks received a mix of admiration and cynicism. “Considering the guy’s a multi, multi millionaire, he could personally donate a few million to treat the NHS staff if he wanted, if he really cared that much,” said one, while another pointed out that Murray’s luxury hotel in rural Scotland charges hundreds of dollars a night for a room. “He wouldn’t even miss the money.”
Another wished that the injury-hit three-time champion would “keep his nose out of politics”, with a viewer asking: “Did he go up to the ones in attendance and bung them a couple of grand each from his vast personal fortune?”
Supporters said that Murray was reflecting the views held by many. “That’s not really how a functioning country should work,” replied one, responding to the suggestion that Murray should fork out more and referencing England striker Marcus Rashford’s campaigning to the conservative government.
“[We shouldn’t be] relying on individual tennis players to pay the NHS or a footballer to feed kids.”
“The sixth-richest country in the world,” seethed a critic of the Tories. “‘Can’t afford to give NHS workers more than a one percent pay rise’, says Johnson. The ‘let’s make our mates rich during this pandemic’ prime minister.”
Murray, who will be back in action again when he faces tenth seed Denis Shapovalov in the third round on Friday, also backed England to prevail at Euro 2020, starting with their quarter-final against Ukraine on Saturday.
“It’s a great opportunity for England to win a major competition for the first time in a while,” he said, upon being inevitably pressed on the topic. “Hopefully they can do it.”
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