Nurses will have to pay more than £100 extra towards their pensions next year under government proposals revealed today.
A consultation on changes to the NHS pension scheme states contributions to pensions will rise by up to 2.4 percentage points in 2012-13.
All NHS employees earning over £15,000 will pay a bigger proportion of their salaries towards pensions - for a nurse on £25,000 the extra amount will equate to £120 after tax relief.
Those on higher salaries will pay proportionately more, so nurses earning £30,000 will pay an additional £300 a year and those on a £40,000 salary face a rise of £396.
The government wants contributions to rise even more, by an average of 3.2 percentage points across the public sector by 2014-15.
Separate discussions over the structure of public sector pension schemes, such as whether they should continue to offer “final salary” pensions, are ongoing.
Health secretary Andrew Lansley, who was this week revealed to have written a letter to the Treasury warning against reducing “gold standard” public sector pensions, announced the consultation.
He said: “What will not change is that the NHS pension will remain one of the very best available, providing a guaranteed pension level for all employees – something that very few private sector employers still offer. We will also completely protect the pensions people have already earned. None of the rights people have accrued will be affected.
“However, [Independent Public Service Pensions Commission chairman] Lord Hutton made it absolutely clear that there needs to be a fairer balance between what employees and taxpayers contribute to public sector pensions. With people living longer and healthier lives, the status quo is untenable and unfair. It is entirely reasonable that people pay more to receive the benefit for longer.”
But Royal College of Nursing chief executive and general secretary Peter Carter said: “Hard working nurses are in the middle of a two year pay freeze, inflation is soaring and they now face the prospect of paying more money into their pension next year for no additional benefit.
“This latest development is not just about contributions in 2012. It is the start of a process that will increase contributions even further and make nurses work until they are dropping on their feet. All this is likely to have a devastating impact on the morale of dedicated nurses.
“We believe the current cost sharing arrangements in the NHS are fit for purpose. The government should complete and publish the 2008 NHS scheme valuation, get back round the table and have proper discussions on the costs of the scheme.
“It is only three years since nurses accepted fundamental changes to the pension scheme. It is also important to emphasise that the average NHS pension paid to a woman is less than £4,000 – far from the ‘gold plated’ term that is often used. This is not a fight the government needs at this time.
“We know the strength of feeling among members and the RCN on behalf of nurses and healthcare assistants will vigorously defend fair pensions at all times.”