Rishi Sunak has criticized the football pundit Gary Neville for arguing people should “detest low pay” and poor working conditions whether for migrant workers in Qatar or NHS staff in the UK.
The former Manchester United and England defender made the comments during ITV’s coverage of Sunday’s World Cup final in Qatar, saying that the UK government was “demonising” striking rail and health workers.
Speaking to broadcasters during a visit to Latvia for a gathering of leaders from Joint Expeditionary Force countries, the prime minister told broadcasters: “I don’t think that’s right at all.”
He went on: “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 at 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.”
Speaking earlier to the Daily Mail, which accompanied Sunak to Latvia, the prime minister said: “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.”
Asked about Neville’s comments, Sunak’s official spokesperson said: “It is clearly not a legitimate or appropriate comparison in any way.”
Neville, who publicly supports Labour, 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 that we’ve got a current government in our country who are demonizing rail workers, ambulance workers and – terrifyingly – nurses.
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.”
Nurses are due to begin a new stoppage on Tuesday, with ambulance staff striking on Wednesday, amid a wider series of disputes in the public sector, primarily about declining real-terms pay, but also in some cases about working conditions.