Nurses have expressed outrage at moves that would prevent them from retiring from their “physically exhausting” jobs until their late 60s.
Increasing the age at which NHS workers can draw their pensions is one of the central recommendations of the Independent Public Service Pensions Commission led by Lord Hutton, which has also called for an end to final salary pension schemes.
There’s no doubt that these proposed changes are another hammer blow to the morale of dedicated nurses
The report, published last week, said the “normal pension age” – the age at which workers can retire on a full pension – for public sector schemes should be brought into line with the state pension age. The government has previously announced that this will increase from 65 to 66 by 2026, to 67 by 2036 and to 68 by 2046.
The report said the change would provide “a way to manage any future expected increases in longevity”, ensuring public sector pensions were affordable in future.
But the proposal is seen as a step too far by many nurses, whose normal pension age has already increased from 55 to 65 for new entrants since 1994.
In a snap poll of more than 1,000 Nursing Times readers last week, respondents rejected the idea as “impractical”, grossly unfair” and an “absolute disgrace”. One said: “To expect nurses to work until 68 is outrageous, the job is physically exhausting.”
Many feared it would force nurses to work who were no longer able to carry out certain, more physically demanding tasks, such as performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
One reader said: “Having started nursing in the 80s when lifting and handling equipment was not available, I have now reached my 40s with a chronic lower back problem and will probably be unable to carry on until 60 or even further.”
Royal College of Nursing senior employment relations advisor Gerry O’Dwyer said many nurses were capable of working into their 60s. But he added: “Maybe [the proposals] will bring about a need to consider changes in the nature of roles and the need for more flexible employment.”
The Nursing Times survey found that raising the retirement age appeared to be a bigger issue for nurses than scrapping final salary schemes or raising employee contributions.
Asked which would make them most likely to look for non-NHS jobs, 37% said a raised retirement age, 31% said scrapping the final salary scheme and 17% said increasing employee contributions. Only 15% said none of those would tempt them to look elsewhere.
In place of the final salary, the Hutton report has also recommended introducing one based on workers’ career averages – although it says any accrued pensions benefits should be honoured.
The report says: “Final salary schemes unfairly benefit high flyers who can receive up to twice as much in pension payments per £100 of contributions.”
Lord Hutton’s interim report last October said this was because they disproportionately rewarded those who were rapidly promoted or enjoyed large pay hikes in their final years of work.
But three quarters of respondents to our survey were against such a move.
The proposals also make it likely nurses will be asked to contribute more to their pensions, while employers’ contributions remain capped at 14%.
The government stated in its most recent spending review that it wanted public sector staff to pay an extra 3% in order to raise an extra £2.8bn a year from 2012.
A decision on how the 3% will be spread across the public sector will be made this summer following discussions with unions.
Currently, NHS staff pay between 5.5% and 8.5% towards their pensions, depending on how much they earn. The vast majority of nurses in Nursing Times’ survey thought higher earners should pay more.
However, only 17% felt NHS employees as a whole should pay more towards their pensions, while 79% thought they should not.
The government is also consulting over plans to reduce the “discount rate” used to calculate the likely future value of pensions.
At the same time, the Cabinet Office is deciding whether to scrap the “fair deal”, which gives staff transferred outside of the health service access to NHS pensions. Lord Hutton’s interim report criticised the fair deal for penalising the private sector.
Unions have warned of a “summer of industrial action” against the proposals.
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: “On top of a pay freeze, and the threat of redundancy, they now face a pensions raid. This brings the threat of industrial action closer.”
RCN chief executive and general secretary Peter Carter said: “There’s no doubt that these proposed changes are another hammer blow to the morale of dedicated nurses.”
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