In this article David Collett Chair of Blackpool Young Labour and Staff Nurse talks about the Bursary Or Bust campaign against cuts to student funding, urging all members to support the movement and get involved.
Whilst The Labour Party grapples with leadership contests, civil war and the notion of a possible split, nurses continue their fight for bursaries in a campaign that should be supported by all.
As the leadership contest gathers momentum and members along with MP’s ready to pledge there allegiances it is hard to see if anything could bring us back together. However the #BursaryOrBust campaign with unions, the NHS and anti-austerity at its very heart could be a start. In November 2015 MP George Osbourne announced that the bursaries used to fund training for student nurses would be cut and replaced with student loans. This came as a shock to healthcare organisations, professionals and students a like due to the lack of prior consultation on the issue. Within hours of the announcement student nurses Kat Barber (prev Webb) Danielle Tiplady and staff nurse David Collett had taken individual action that would later go on to become the Bursary or Bust campaign. Supported by unions The RCN, Unison and Unite to name but a few this campaign has seen petitions gaining over 150,000 signatures, mass demonstrations through London, Manchester and Newcastle as well as parliamentary debates.
The Government state that removing the bursary is necessary to recruit more nurses and create a further 10,000 training places a year. The NHS is already suffering from a nursing shortage with one in 10 vacancies unfilled and recent reports stating this may deteriorate further due to Brexit. MP Ben Gummer the minister overseeing this change also adds that the student loan system will give students more accessible cash when they need it. This was in response to concerns about student nurses currently having to take on part time jobs as well as their 4600 hours of practice in order to live. The move to take away the NHS Bursary has been criticised as just a way for the conservative government to save eight hundred million pounds a year regardless of the consequences.
Nurses have already suffered a 14% pay cut since 2010 with a starting wage £8,300 less than the average graduate wage. Under the new loans system student nurses will not only pay tuition fees but will receive larger loans to supplement the potential extra costs associated with undertaking such a degree. It is proposed that the average qualifying nurse will now accrue around £51,600 in debt (plus interest) with the government constantly looking to chop and save as seen recently with the Junior Doctors contracts. It is reported that two thirds of current nursing students would not have chosen to study if this system was in place leading to fears this will see a decrease in future applicants. It is also recognised that this new system will not only disenfranchise people from poorer backgrounds but mature students and those with previous degrees as the combination of further debt and relentless practice hours will see many reconsider a change in profession.
Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn, Health Secretary Dianne Abbott and her Predecessor MP Heidi Alexander have already spoken out against the cut, condemning the conservative government for plunging thousands of people further into debt, and leaving the NHS with the inability to place staff where they are most needed. This campaign not only aims to stop the further degradation of our National Health Service, but to enable fair pay and training conditions for our future workforce. This cut will affect all young people in different ways. Those that wish to go to university and study for a career in nursing will be saddled with a life time of debt. Those who use NHS services such as A&E’s or Mental Health Services may experience poor or substandard care due to an over stretched, tired, stressed workforce. We as a party should unite against these cuts and support our NHS and our Nurses. This can be done in various ways from writing to your MP asking them to attend any debates regarding the bursary or urge the government to find alternatives. I also ask for you to debate this issue in Young Labour Groups and pledge your support. I also urge our members of trade unions to get involved and ask their unions to support the campaign. I am aware not all unions directly support healthcare professionals but nearly all support the NHS.
The RCN, Unison and Unite all have tools to enable anybody to send a letter to their MP asking them to support the campaign.
Here is also an open letter to David Cameron signed by over 20 healthcare organisations outlining their concerns: https://www.rcn.org.uk/nursingcounts/student-bursaries
Also look out on social media for any events regarding the bursary we would love for as many supporters to participate as possible and simply spread the word by using #BursaryOrBust.
By David Collett