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