Nurses fear poverty in retirement with pensions too small to live on

Many believe occupational pension won’t be enough, while others have opted out to get money for current living costs
Picture showing several £1 coins on a pension document

Many believe occupational pension won’t be enough, while others have opted out to get money for current living costs

Picture showing several £1 coins on a pension document
Picture: iStock

Nurses and other low paid workers are haunted by ‘pension poverty’ when they contemplate their retirement, a union says.

For the current tax year, those entitled to the maximum state pension will receive £185.20 per week when they retire. Research by the Unite union found that around 66% of 6,000 workers surveyed did not think this was enough to live on. Meanwhile, 40% of 2,900 workers who had an occupational pension scheme believed it would not see them through retirement.

Just three in ten workers believed their work pension would cover them in retirement. Unite general secretary Sharon Graham vowed to support workers campaigning for a ‘pension to live on’.

RCN general secretary Pat Cullen criticised the situation that many nurses have found themselves in, saying ‘a lifetime of service should not mean a lifetime of poverty’.

‘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,’ she said.

RCN says 12,000 nurses have opted out of their pensions since April last year

‘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 – the nursing workforce crisis means care is being left undone and is putting patients at risk.’

Thousands of nurses have already opted out of their pension schemes this year as they struggle to pay bills and keep up with rocketing living costs.

Analysis by the RCN found more than 66,000 NHS staff in England and Wales opted out of their pensions between April and July this year, with almost 12,000 nurses having opted out since April last year.

Meanwhile, unions have warned recent changes to NHS pension contributions could be the ‘final straw’ for nurses who will face a choice between having less money now or in retirement.

The new system, which came into force in October, will see a reduction in the number of tiers in order to avoid staff increasing their contributions if they get a small pay rise, with tier boundaries increasing every year in line with annual Agenda for Change pay awards in England.

However, it could reduce current take-home pay for most full-time staff, with band 5 to 7 nurses among those hardest hit.

It comes as nurses prepare to walk out this winter over poor pay and patient safety concerns in the biggest nursing strike in NHS history. Last week, the RCN gave the government an ultimatum to come to the table for pay negotiations within five days or it would announce strike dates and locations for December.

A government spokesperson insisted the NHS pension scheme offers ‘significant value’ on ‘some of the most generous terms’ from a pension scheme.

They added: ‘We have also just committed to the biggest state pension increase in history thanks to the triple lock – a 10.1% boost – which will also apply to pension credit for low-income pensioners, and pensioner households are receiving extra cost of living payments worth up to £600, with more for those on means-tested benefits.’

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