The RCN’s Janet Davies urges the government to get back to the table to discuss pensions
Last month’s Department of Health announcement of a consultation on increasing employee pension contributions in 2012-13 in England and Wales was yet another hammer blow to nurses’ morale at a time when many are deeply concerned about their financial situation.
The nursing workforce is in the middle of a two-year pay freeze, inflation is soaring and this latest announcement suggests they now face the prospect of paying more money into their pensions next year for no additional benefit.
Our members have already said they will pay the increases required by the existing scheme. It is only three years since nurses accepted fundamental changes to their pensions, including agreeing to bear any increased costs arising out of pay increases and a rise in contributions where the highest earners pay more.
“Our message to the government is that this is not a fight they need to have at this time”
These changes mean the current NHS pension scheme is fit for purpose, with no additional burden on the general taxpayer. Indeed, the scheme provides an annual surplus of around £2bn to the Treasury. And while the myth of “gold-plated public sector pensions” remains, the reality is that the average NHS pension to a woman is less than £4,000 a year.
By unilaterally announcing this consultation, the government has torn up this agreement that would have led to increasingly affordability in public sector pensions and delivered long-term savings.
The truth is that these latest proposals on increases are nothing to do with the pension scheme and everything to do with helping the Treasury to pay off deficits caused by the financial crisis. They are also the start of a process that will increase contributions even further in coming years and make nurses work until potentially the age of 68 with no additional pension benefit.
We reject the “race to the bottom” argument put forward by employers’ organisations that because private sector pension provision is poor by comparison, public sector pensions should be dragged down to the same level.
What needs to happen now is the government should complete and publish the 2008 NHS scheme valuation, get back around the table and have proper discussions on the costs of the scheme. We know the strength of feeling among our members and we will be vigorously defending fair pensions throughout the coming months.
Our message to the government is that this is not a fight they need to have at this time.
Janet Davies is director of nursing and service delivery at the Royal College of Nursing