Nurses have suffered an almost 10% real terms pay cut since 2008, according to research by the Royal College of Nursing, which also warned of the potential damage from reductions to tax credits if announced in the government spending review.
The union claimed the government’s policy to hold down public sector pay had resulted in healthcare workers’ earnings “falling way behind everyone else”.
It pointed to figures from the Office of National Statistics which show average weekly earnings over the past six years for full-time workers across the UK rose roughly in line with inflation – which has overall increased by 20% since 2008.
”The government must show that it values nursing, by putting an end to these continuing attacks on pay”
However, nurses’ weekly wages increased only by around 12%, while nursing assistants’ went up by about 9%.
Taking into account the inflation increase, it means there has been a 9.6% fall in earnings for nurses and a 9.2% drop for nursing assistants, according to the RCN’s analysis, which is yet to be published.
Ahead of the government’s spending review, the union warned any further cuts to tax credits would only add to the financial hardship of nursing staff.
A recent RCN survey found 23,000 union members received child tax credits and 10,000 received working tax credits.
The union’s chief executive general secretary Janet Davies said warnings from nurses who are struggling financially had “repeatedly fallen on deaf ears”.
“Restraining pay while demand increases is a false economy, making it harder to retain staff and forcing many to work for agencies”
“Now the government can see the impact of years of pay restraint in black and white. The earnings of the people who are looking after us and keeping our health service going have fallen way behind everyone else. Worse, they have fallen way behind inflation,” she said.
Ms Davies pointed to the fact that government pay decisions for NHS nurses in recent years had meant either a salary freeze or just 1% rise, meaning a real terms pay cut.
“Restraining pay while demand increases is a false economy, making it harder to retain staff and forcing many to work for agencies just to make ends meet,” she said.
“Nurses cannot afford for this to continue, and neither can the health service. The government must show that it values nursing, by putting an end to these continuing attacks on pay,” she added.
A recent RCN survey found almost 60% of British adults believed the government could afford to pay higher wages to nurses, despite its claims to the contrary.
Meanwhile, this week the final measures of the government’s clampdown on agency staff spending have been introduced, which will see caps placed on the amount of money an NHS trust can pay to agencies for workers.
The move is designed to reduce NHS spending on what the government views as expensive agency workers and to tempt more staff back into the NHS as permanent employees.