Real-terms fall in UK nurses’ pay is part of wider trend

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NHS nurses across the UK have voted to go on strike, citing real-terms pay cuts caused by inflation. Such cuts are not restricted to nurses but may affect them more than other higher-paid professions.

The average pay of an NHS nurse has fallen in real terms by 8% since 2010. Nurses were paid £35,680 on average in the year to April 2022, equating to a reduction of more than £3,000 from a decade earlier after adjusting for inflation.

The depression in nurses’ pay is part of a wider trend across industries and job categories: NHS doctors, secondary school teachers, police officers, MPs and FTSE 100 bosses have all seen the worth of their pay packets shrink owing to inflationary pressures.

Britain as a whole has experienced a decade of pay stagnation: public sector annual earnings are 6% smaller in 2022 than they were in 2010, after taking inflation into account. High inflation this year has meant private sector workers are taking home 2% less than they were 12 years ago.

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While NHS nurses’ pay has been squeezed by 8% on average, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) says some experienced nursing roles have had real-terms wage cuts of as much as 20% since 2010. NHS hospital doctors have had a real-terms pay cut of 7% in the same period, now averaging £71,089 a year.

Other public sector workers have also felt pay squeezes over the past 12 years. Police officers have seen their annual gross pay fall by 14%, receiving an average of £44,211 in 2022. Secondary school teachers (£41,722 in 2022) have had a real-terms cut of 13%.

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High inflation has meant that even people in jobs with regular pay increases have had real-terms pay cuts compared with 2010. MPs are paid 3% less in real terms in 2022 than they were in 2010 despite their pay having grown for most of the past decade.

Chief executive pay has also decreased since 2019, as the economy has been hit by Covid-19 and Brexit. The median pay of a FTSE 100 CEO was down 14% in real terms in 2021 compared with 2010.

Conversely, sales and retail assistants have seen their pay rise in real terms over the past decade, although they still make far less on average than people in other professions, including NHS nurses.

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