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Why are nurses paying for bankers' mistakes?


Unite’s Barrie Brown on why it’s so unfair to attack nurses’ pensions

The choice that the government is now offering nurses and NHS staff is pay more, get less and, if you don’t like it, you are free to leave the NHS pension scheme.

Following the Hutton review of public sector pensions, the NHS unions (who had jointly submitted evidence to the Hutton review with NHS Employers) expected to enter negotiations on further revisions to the NHS scheme. But it appeared the chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander was pushing the agenda from the chancellor’s Comprehensive Spending Review.

There were a series of meetings between the Trade Union Congress and ministers, which were intended to pave the way for individual public sector scheme negotiations. But on 28 July Mr Alexander announced what would be happening in those negotiations. For the NHS it meant required savings of £530m in 2012-13 and increased staff contribution rates from 1 April 2012, followed by further annual increases up to April 2014.

“Nurses do not enter the profession to become rich. But they do expect their value to be rewarded when working and to receive a fair deal when they retire”

The average NHS pension is less than £6,000 and there is more paid into NHS pensions each year than is paid out to pensioners. So why is this attack on pensions happening? It has nothing to do with the value of nurses and other health workers and their contribution to a vastly improved health service. It has nothing to do with a crisis in the NHS pension scheme. It has nothing to do with maintaining the morale and commitment of hard-pressed nursing professionals. Instead, this is part of the government’s continuing commitment to counter the impact of the financial crisis brought about by bankers with their multimillion-pound bonuses by penalising band 5 nurses earning £22,000 annually.

Band 5 nurses will have their contribution rate increased from 6.5% to 7.1% next April and by April 2004 it will be 8%. Comparable increases rates for bands 6 and 7 nurses will be 7.7% and 9.5%. These increases mean additional payments of hundreds of pounds each year against the two-year pay freeze and increases in costs of living.

Nurses do not enter the profession to become rich. But they do expect their value to be rewarded when working and to receive a fair deal when they retire.

Their pensions in retirement should not be paid for as a contribution to a crisis created by millionaire bankers. Nurses are not simply subject to a pay freeze but to a tax on their NHS earnings for an economic situation that is none of their making. They also face a hostile attitude in government, which is supported and promoted by much of the media, to the public sector and its mythical gold-plated pensions.

Barrie Brown is national officer for health at Unite


Readers' comments (10)

  • I'n nearly 55 - I should just about be able to lift my NHS pension before the changes kick in and about 20,000 other Registered Nurses. Then we can come back doing the same job for an agency for a lot more money - so the public get to pay us twice: is this good economic sense?

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  • Ian Mansell

    "gold plated" hardly! Ive been paying since 1974 and added contributions to buy back refunded contribution from 1980, that amounts to over £500 a month. Recent forcast states I'll get £12000 a year. But I've been paying towards this all my working life!! Nurses are penalised for corrupt institutional banking systems, that pay extortionate bonuses on top of salaries. Mmm when's the last time I received a bonus in the NHS for caring, nurturing, improving quality of life, ameliorate symptoms? That'll be never then!!

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  • I agree that public sector workers do indeed seem to be under attack from the media as well as the Government. It's as if there is a conspiracy to make public sector workers look evil and greedy, this image is then transmitted to the rest of the public.
    nursing unions and the NMC should tackle this perception and make it clear to the media that they are supposed to be impartial!

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  • I just opted for the 2008 version of the pension just when Cameron got in. My deadline coincided with it. I was told we were short of practice nurses (too many retiring) so decided I'd like to work longer and get a reduced lump sum for the chance of a greater monthly sum. However, with the GP changes it looks as if I won't have job when my employer retires. This means I'll lose my house (ex council house mortgaged to age 70), and the ability to support 2 x adult children with disabilities (that the then Governement/Council did not have services in place to diagnose soon enough).

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  • As nurses, we all agree the pension reforms are uncalled for and unfair. The Unions agree the pension reforms are uncalled for and unfair.
    So, why are we still being dictated too by an unelected coalition Government that is protecting the bankers and digging them out of the mess they created?

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  • Nurses have to pay for banker's mistakes/greed because they are seen as a soft target. It is about time we showed them we are not.

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  • Absolutely agree with all said, and Anonymous | 24-Aug-2011 4:16 pm well said.

    It is about time we went on strike, not to 'negotiate', but to DEMAND.

    DEMAND a cease on any and all current and future attacks on our pensions and increments (which aren't great to begin with).

    An IMMEDIATE pay rise, with newly qualified staff starting at £25,000 and higher ranks paid accordingly. This will simply bring us into line with other professionals, and reflect the education, qualifications, skill, accountability etc that we have.

    And a dozen other demands I have mentioned ad nauseum elsewhere.

    They want to know where to get the money from this? They can take it from the bankers bonuses and their own f*****g expense accounts!!!!

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  • It is heartening to see that some nurses becoming concerned about the likely changes to our pensions. The Government is feeding the public lies. There is a surplus in the NHS 'pension pot' which is essentially going into Government coffers. The increases in contributions will mean that nurses and many other workers fund the deficit even further. Hutton has also stated that the cost of public sector pensions will decrease after 2014. The Government clearly do not need to have this fight with NHS staff. Andrew Lansley seems to have grasped this (even if he has not grasped many other issues within the NHS) and is reported to be opposed to the ConDem plans to attack our pensions. I understand that many nurses (amongst others) may be frustrated with their trade union organisations and, indeed, it is good to see them developing a united stand against the pension changes. However, I would ask whether any of those nurses who have have expressed their anger/dismay at the pension changes in online discussion sites like this one have responded to or plan to respond to the formal DH consultation on pensions - which is open until October? I would also respectfully suggest that any union is only as good as its members. Yes, the union leadership have a responsibility to listen to the members but union members also have a duty to make their views known directly within their organisations. The RCN website has requested member views to feed into the consultation. I wonder how many RCN members have done so? Despite the problems being faced by nurses - the pay freeze, increments and pensions under threat, the cost of living increasing etc - I do not see larger numbers of nurses turning up to union branch meetings or otherwise participating collectively to oppose the Government and defend our corner. If our voices are loud enough our union leadership will have to listen and that will benefit us

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  • Certain sections of the media seem to be portraying this as a battle between Public Sector Workers - vs - Taxpayers. I seem to still be paying tax though - did I miss a memo about that? It's not just nurses and public sector workers though, some of the most vulnerable in our society are paying a huge price in the current austerity measures.Bankers meanwhile continue to take hefty bonuses, something is inherently wrong in our society. If a society is 'judged on how it treats the weakest members...' (Pope John Paul II) then how is our society/government fairing - not too well imo.

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  • I have read all comments and whilst I agree with them I feel the unions – ALL unions have failed their members.

    Like politicians they call for support but fail to support or shout loud enough about all the other injustices.

    This argument about pensions fails to highlight one simple fact – over the entire history of negotiations the government rolled out their favourite statement :-

    You have to accept a lower wage increase in comparison with other private workers. WHY ?

    BECAUSE you have a SECURE job and a GOOD PENSION.

    I remember when as a deputy head of department, my bus fares increased more than my annual increment and pay increase

    So if they now wish to bring public pensions into line with private ones, that's OK – BUT – they have to make up ALL the back pay that they forfeited – with interest! - That's fair don't you agree ?

    But this is just one plank or rivet in the ship [HMS National Health Service] that is falling apart.

    What about the end to :-

    national pay deals ;

    Regional Boards - How can you single handedly supervise hundreds of individual hospitals ; GPs ; Dentists ; Pharmacies etc., etc. Tell me one large national company [none as big as the NHS] that is run by the branch offices. I wonder what the share holders would say.

    Let me just run over some facts.

    Which company setts about a TOTAL revamp on a “VISION” ? Where the highest paid managers who had this “VISION” say – that they cannot tell the staff how to make it work BECAUSE THEY DO NOT KNOW HOW TO ! That is in black and white in one of the numerous documents with the most misleading titles – the NHS PLANS !

    At the same time they admit – there are NO PLANS !

    Who, in their right mind starts changing things on such a vast scale without first developing their “VISION” into a viable plan, WHO ?

    Every section should have a CPA – Critical Path Analysis. Otherwise you are flying by the seat of your pants.

    It is like building the Twin Towers without knowing how to or what you need and without knowing if it will stand up as you build it or when you finish it.

    They also went into print – in the same set of documents – saying. After several years of research they discovered, that if you look after the well-being of your staff, they – perform better, there is less sickness, lower turnover and better team spirit [or words to that effect].

    These are top managers and they needed years of research to know that ! It beggars belief. And what have they learnt from it – precisely nothing.

    Nursing staff are expected to work overtime for FREE or work Pool for basic grade and no time off in lieu. The wedding day, a public holiday and nurses throughout the NHS were paid at different rates.

    Medical staff gagged from informing patients that their GP has changed their medication only to save their budget to the detriment of the patients health.

    What did Cameron & Clegg say ? We WILL protect the front line – the money will follow the patient, we have ring fenced the funding. So why is the NHS falling apart at the seams ?

    One reason is that there are too many people with degrees but no brains, they do not value experience only bits of paper.

    Then we come round to their excuse they constantly churn out as to why they are turning the service on its head – to save money. Which brings us back to where we started.

    Why are they saving money and not fulfilling another claim – we will have a world leading service – the answer being they are following in Margaret Thatcher's footsteps.

    They say they can provide the same and better service with less, but are failing at every turn.

    They are locked into the very same pattern of thought that the Coalition had in 1929 – see below “After the May 2010 Election” from the web site [which has been hacked and is currently down]

    All they are interested in is cutting public services in order that private companies can move in. I have no problem with either private or public services, providing they compete on equal terms. We all expect value for money – if not why are super markets so popular ?

    What we do expect is, that those charged with managing and planning the public services do so correctly and not waste so much money at all levels.

    Unions can be just as bad. How many have built flash facilities in town halls at the expense of rate payers ? How many organise union meetings to coincide with some trivial council committee meeting so they get paid.

    So the division is not black and white – the emphasis should be on quality and value.

    But why are we in such deep s*** financially ? Because we bailed out the banks when we should have nationalised them. That way salaries, bonuses and lending would all be under control. OH, I forgot, the financial advisers said they would all emigrate – to where all the banks were / are in the same mess.

    I do not see them bailing out all the sound companies that have folded why ? Why only the banks ?

    The bankers big payouts get invested in oversees companies not spent on the high street, nurses wages do and the shop assistant does the same etc., etc.

    The bankers pay proportionately very little tax and avoid VAT. Where as nurses etc., cannot avoid either.

    Also it is not long ago that two bank employees went to jail for NEARLY bringing down two banks.

    Seeing as numerous bank managers etc., have brought so much devastation to so many – in effect bringing the country down. Why then has not one person been brought before the courts or are we going to pay the other two a large compensation for false charges ?

    So much for – we are all equal and we are all in it together.

    There is another way that “GB financial mess” can be cleaned up.

    In 1997 the top 0.1% of the population got 4.3% of all income [ and that did not include millionaires.
    The top 10% received 40% of all income & 53% of all wealth.

    If they paid the same proportion of income tax there would be no problem.

    After the May 2010 election.

    Well we all now know that the Coalition Government are hell bent on cutbacks of almost any kind and that includes the NHS in one form or another – wage freeze/cuts – pensions frozen for ex -workers – talk of reduction in managerial staff – possible abolition of SHAs.

    This is not a politically motivated site, and this is not a political statement, but it would seem that the country has been here before, all be it in a slightly different form.

    We have all heard about the Great Depression of 1929. But how many are aware of the basic facts ?

    In 1929 there was the stock market crash which started the Great Depression. Sound familiar – stock market / banks – America .

    To continue – this shook the world [echo] – credit dried up [echo] – countries adopted emergency responses [echo] – governments faced financial crisis [echo] – government income contracted [echo] – cost of unemployment rose [echo].

    The government appointed a committee to review the state of finances [echo] – the report [July 1931] proposed, public sector wage cuts ; cuts in public spending ; cuts in benefits [echo]

    A National Government [coalition] was formed by no other than the Conservatives & Liberals [echo]

    Following a general election in 1931 the Conservatives introduced draconian measures – cuts of 10% in public sector wages and benefits – a rise of 2.5% in taxes [echo]

    The result – deflation – let us hope that that is not echoed. Some are already predicting a fall in house prices of 30%.

    The worst areas hit were similar to those that are predicted to be hit again.

    It is reported that overall there will be a 25% cut back but half that for MPs !! WHY ?

    Again we have heard about council workers/department cut backs but what about the councillors ?
    Including political party facilities / party bars etc., in the town halls.

    That is a statement of fact, so we will all have to watch with interest as things develop and see what impact it has on the NHS staff / service.

    Having said all that I think we all have to face the fact that the NHS cannot finance every medical discovery, as hard as that may sound. At least it cannot unless we are prepared to finance it in one way or another.

    It is stated that the majority of the expenditure is in the community [ 80%] not in the high tech' hospital treatments. Also a similar percentage of costs is incurred when we are over 65years old.
    In France the service is mainly financed by private insurance and that continues for life, where as pensioners in England pay nothing and very little tax.

    So at a time we most likely need the NHS and incur its greatest cost, we are contributing the least if anything.

    Plus we have to accept that when we did contribute the service was nothing like what it is in later life.

    Some of us are old enough to remember when it was a very sad day when you saw an ambulance outside a house as it was treated almost as a hearse in waiting. The days when appendicitis was a major operation taking weeks, now day surgery; transplants were in science fiction, helicopters almost unheard of. All this is now taken for granted, indeed it is expected as a right ; but it all has to be paid for.

    We would like to hear your proposals as to how the NHS's ever increasing financial demands can be met. Plus we invite you all not just NHS workers to tell us where you see waste in whatever form. We would especially like those who have had first hand experience of health service in other countries, who can make direct comparisons of service showing where costs and/or quality of service can be improved.

    Please e-mail your comments to –

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