Nurses’ real-term wages have fallen so low they are effectively working for free

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A study by London Economics found the average nurse’s pay has fallen 25% in real terms since 2010, when the Conservatives took power meaning they effectively work five days a month for free

Nurses’ real-terms wages have fallen so much under the Tories that they effectively work five days a month for free, analysis shows.

A study by London Economics found the average experienced nurse’s pay has fallen 25% in real terms since 2010, when the Conservatives took power.

Prof Pat Cullen, General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “Ministers who once seemed glad to applaud NHS staff should reflect on this terrible state of affairs. Over a decade of below-inflation pay offers, followed last year by the lowest award in the entire public sector, have caused hardship and forced thousands to consider quitting.”

An RCN survey of 11,000 members found 52% said they were likely to quit the profession in the next five years, and 43% said financial worries were affecting their mental health. Prof Cullen added: “Nursing staff are rationing electricity and gas.”

Nurses were furious after they received around half the pay rise subsequently offered to doctors for last year. Their 5% NHS pay rise was rejected in an RCN ballot but the Government imposed the below-inflation award for the 2023/24 financial year anyway.

The union has now made its formal submission to the NHS Pay Review Body for 2024/25, calling for a sizeable lump sum on top of a substantial above-inflation pay rise. Further industrial action is also possible, after a series of nurses’ strikes last year disrupted NHS services.

A second RCN ballot for a mandate to continue strikes then did not meet the 50% turnout threshold required by law but the RCN still remains technically in industrial dispute with the Government. Three-quarters of nurses, 248,500 of the NHS’s 336,900 in England, are in pay bands 5 and 6. Delivering the most patient care, they earn between £28,000 and £42,000. One in 10 nursing posts in the NHS are currently vacant in England amid a recruitment crisis in the sector.

The latest analysis comes as the Tories refuse to negotiate with striking doctors, increasing the prospect of strikes escalating throughout 2024, at a time when the NHS is already struggling with record waiting times.

One couple working in healthcare have told how they could not afford to put the heating on this winter. Nurse Sammi Coleman lives with husband Matthew, a healthcare support worker, and their children aged 11 and three in West London. Their combined annual salaries before tax is around £60,000.

Band 6 Nurse Sammi, 36, said: “Even though I’m a grade higher than when I qualified ten years ago I am worse off. Our rent increased from £1,250 to £1,750 and our energy bills from about £50 to £160.

“As children get older they eat more and food prices have gone up. This is the first winter that we have only had the heating on one time when it was particularly cold and the rest we have tried to use blankets.

“Even public transport to get to work now costs £10 every day so my husband cycles ten miles there and ten miles back. He’s exhausted. They need to pay nurses a fair wage.”

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