Six in ten nurses turning to credit as costs rise

25th March 2024

A survey by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has found that 77% say they are worse off than a year ago.

The findings from the survey reveal a nursing workforce struggling desperately with living costs, with more than three quarters (77%) saying they are financially worse off than 12 months ago. Over two thirds (68%) report rationing gas and electricity and almost half (43%) say financial pressures are having a considerable impact on their mental health.

Real-terms cuts to NHS wages since 2010/11 have been so severe that hundreds of thousands of nurses are effectively working five days a month for free, with the  analysis showing a quarter has been cut from pay packets in the last decade.

The analysis also indicated that half (52%) of nursing staff say they are likely or very likely to quit nursing in the next five years due to low pay and cost of living pressures. Over two thirds (68%) admitted to rationing gas and electricity during the last winter.

Since 2010, nursing staff in the NHS in England have received year-on-year below-inflation pay awards from the government, leaving them exposed to the rising cost of living. Comprehensive analysis of pay awards shows that between 2010/11 and 2023/24, a typical, experienced nurse had their pay cut in real terms by 25%.

Last year, NHS nursing staff received an average pay uplift of 5%, the lowest pay award across the entire public sector. The new analysis from London Economics and the findings from RCN’s major cost of living survey demonstrate how urgent it is for the government to deliver a fair pay award when it is due on 1 April this year.

In its submission to the NHS Pay Review Body, the RCN demanded a ‘substantial and above inflation’ pay rise along with an additional salary top-up worth ‘several thousand pounds’ going to every member of nursing staff. The College says this would help stem the exodus of nursing staff from the NHS and combat chronic workforce shortages.

85% of respondents said that their current monthly household spending is higher than it was 12 months previously with almost a third (32%) of respondents said that their financial concerns have a considerable or very considerable impact on their physical health. 60% said they have used credit or savings for essential living costs within the last 12 months.

Only one in twenty (5%) of respondents said that within the last 12 months they have been able to manage their finances without difficulty. One in four (27%) of respondents said that they are struggling with living costs and increasingly worried about their financial situation.

Professor Pat Cullen, RCN General Secretary and Chief Executive, said “This new analysis exposes the scale of the government’s sustained attack on nursing. 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 altogether. 

“Today, nursing staff are rationing electricity and gas with financial pressures pushing four in ten into a state of mental distress. Pay has been devalued so much that they are effectively working 5 days or more for free each month. Ministers who once seemed glad to applaud NHS staff should reflect on this terrible state of affairs.

“When nursing pay is deliberately undermined in this way, so too is patient care. There are tens of thousands of nurse vacancies across England’s NHS and yet our most experienced nurses are being forced out of the profession – just when the health service needs them most.

“The next NHS pay award should have been ready for the new and imminent financial year – but our members will be kept in the dark again until the government confirms its plans. Ministers must commit to a substantial pay rise for every member of nursing staff. That’s how to begin delivering pay justice for a profession so routinely undervalued. If they fall short once again, they will be exposing tens of thousands to further hardship and exacerbate an already dangerous staffing crisis.”