Nurses ditch pensions as thousands opt out of schemes in desperate bid to cope with costs

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Thousands of nurses are opting out of their NHS pensions in a desperate move to cope with the cost of living, according to figures published today.

The number of staff leaving the NHS pension scheme has more than doubled in the past year, shooting from 30,270 to 66,167, analysis from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) reveals.

This includes more than 4,000 nurses who opted out of their pension between April and July this year, with 12,000 doing so since April last year.

Many staff members said they decided to opt out because of affordability and being faced with other financial priorities.

Just under half (47 percent) said this was a temporary decision, but the RCN fears that the continuing cost-of-living crisis will see many more people forced to leave the scheme. 

Nurse Jodie Elliott, from London, opted out of her NHS pension because she could no longer afford it. She said it had been an agonising decision that had “horrified” her family.

She said: “My family had always drilled into me the importance of securing my financial future, but every single month I was getting to the bottom of both my overdrafts despite being extremely careful.”

“I work full time and despite constantly picking up extra work, I just couldn’t make ends meet. I had no choice but to leave the scheme.” 

A newly qualified nurse in England and Wales on a salary of around £27,000 would pay about £183 on their basic salary into their pension each month – money that the cost-of-living crisis has meant that many nurses need to put towards rising food, heating and petrol costs.

RCN General Secretary & Chief Executive Pat Cullen said: “It is a sad day when the people who care for this country from cradle to grave don’t earn enough to provide for their own future. A lifetime of service should never mean a lifetime of poverty.”

“With living costs soaring, this situation is only going to get worse. Some nurses are having to use food banks just to get by. Many are leaving the profession and ultimately, it’s patients who are suffering.”

“A simple way to recruit and retain more staff is to pay them fairly. But ministers haven’t listened and we’re now having to consider strike action. Enough is enough.”

The RCN is balloting 300,000 of its members about strike action for the first time in its 106-year history and recommending that they vote in favour.

The ballot, which closes next Wednesday (November 2) is in protest at the government’s decision in July to award most NHS staff a five percent pay rise.

The RCN wants nurses to get an increase of five percent above inflation – which is currently 10.1 percent.

A government spokesperson said: “The NHS Pension Scheme offers significant value and security of guaranteed income in every year of retirement, on some of the most generous terms available from a pension scheme.”

“We are also giving over 1 million NHS workers – including nurses – a pay rise of at least £1,400 this year, as recommended by the independent NHS Pay Review Body.”

“The government’s Energy Price Guarantee will save the typical household around £700 this winter, based on what energy prices would have been under the current price cap – reducing bills by roughly a third. In addition, we have provided at least an extra £1,200 of cost-of-living support to 8 million of the most vulnerable households.”

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