Today thousands of student nurses will march through London demanding that the NHS bursary should not be scrapped. Emma RC discusses the campaign she’s been part of at King’s College London and argues the #bursaryorbust campaign is part of a wider fight in defence of the NHS.
Like most years since its birth, it has been an intense year for the NHS. From junior doctors coming to the brink of strike action, to a south London choir beating Justin Bieber to the Christmas number one. But for me and many others one of the biggest events was George Osborne announcing he will be scrapping the NHS bursary and funded tuition for students who begin training in nursing, midwifery, physiotherapy and speech language therapy (the list goes on) in his Autumn Statement.
£3 an hour. That’s how much the bursary roughly works out at for a student nurse, midwife or allied health professional, if they are even entitled to the full amount. It’s not much, but given that 90% of 2,000 Student Nurses asked would not have undertaken a degree without it, the question is why take it away? Why saddle key workers with £50,000 debt? It has been estimated that it will take over 100 years for the average student to pay off this debt given the disgracefully low wages that nurses and others earn when they finally qualify (roughly £21,000 per year).
In effect we will have to pay the most regressive tax in Britain for the rest of our lives. All while in the last year some hospital chief executives have been given pay rises of up to £35,000, 40%of trusts increased executives’ wages by at least £5,000 during 2014-15!
The Government rhetoric is that 10,000 new nurses will be trained as result of their bursary cuts but where are these 10,000 people? The bursary is a lifeline for most. With the average age of a student nurse being 29, over half of students having family or caring duties and many undertaking these courses as a second degree, it would be no surprise if rates of students going into health professions dropped dramatically from 2017 onwards. This is why we now, more than ever, need to fight back.
The last 10 years especially has seen our NHS suffer as a result of increasing privatisation, cuts, pay freezes and obscene new contracts for its workers. Cuts to bursaries and the introduction of fees for would-be health workers is part of a wider political attack by the government on one of our most valued institutions.
We need to fight to stop these attacks now. We need to support the Junior Doctors who are facing the imposition of unsafe and unfair new working contracts. We can do this by getting down to BMA picket lines on the 12th January to offer our support. But beyond that we will need to get organised across all the staff groups in the NHS; in every workplace and in every community. NHS workers have the power and the support from the public to take on this government and win.
There’s a reason why Cameron has called the Junior Doctors dispute his ‘miners strike’ and that is because it is a life and death fight for our industry. The NHS is being dismantled from all angles, it is in a financial black hole of £2.2 billion and is lurching from crisis to crisis.
But we can stop the government and save our NHS. We started as a handful of students in London wanting to make a stand for bursaries and now look where we are in only a matter of weeks!
When the decision was announced, students from the Nursing and Midwifery Society at King’s College London took action and called a demonstration outside the Department of Health. We expected a handful of people but hundreds turned up, despite the short notice, including other university students, unions, and anti-austerity groups.
Over 100,000 signed a petition calling for George Osborne and Jeremy Hunt to keep the bursary, which means the issue must be debated in parliament. Momentum has continued, and growing support has enabled a strong team of students at King’s to organise a further demonstration today ( 9 January) – two days before the petition is debated in parliament. Meetings have been held, and support given by well-known figures including Green Party leader Natalie Bennett. Smaller campaigns have sprung up alongside such as students writing their ‘NHS bursary stories’ and posting them online.
The NHS is being attacked from all angles. The right wing press declare that “we have no money for housing or benefits”, as the government sets out to make sure the working class continue to pay for “economic success” with further cuts to the public service we rely on in times of need. This goes alongside the demonisation of the most vulnerable, exemplified by the disgusting attitude of the Tories towards refugees. While there is apparently no money to save lives, we seem to have endless supplies of money required to bomb people.
The NHS will only last as long as there are good people left willing to fight for it, if we organise and fight together 2016 is the year we will start to win that fight.