Firefighters in England say 100 hours of weeks to pay bills is “playing safe”

Firefighters in England say 100 hours of weeks to pay bills is “playing safe”

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<p><figcaption class=Photograph: Richard Saker / The Guardian

Firefighters are taking a second job and working up to 100 hours a week to make ends meet, raising growing concerns that an increasingly exhausted workforce translates into a “gamble on public safety.”

Firefighters across the country said so Observer that the service was at “breaking point” with more staff than ever forced to accept jobs as personal trainers, painters and decorators or in warehouses. Firefighters’ wages are often around £ 30,000, but can go as low as £ 23,000.

“When I started the job just a few years ago, I had good prospects of being able to buy a house and pay the bills, but, with inflation, this job is running out of money,” said one. “I want to do this job, I want to help people… but I can’t afford to have a home, I can’t afford to start a family right now. I don’t ask for much. “

“You would think about it [as an emergency service worker] you would be cured, but you are not, “he added.

Firefighters are already addressing the record shortage, with one Guardian the analysis found that numbers in England have fallen by 20.4% since 2010, while local government funding for fire services has been cut by 14% over the past five years.

Firefighters are voted on by the firefighters union for what would be its first attack in nearly a decade.

The union, which represents more than 32,000 of the country’s approximately 40,000 firefighters and rescue personnel, is in dispute with the government over a proposed 2% bonus, which the union says would leave firefighters to a pay cut. in real terms with inflation at 9.9%. The union says that, adjusted for inflation, firefighters saw their pay cut by 12% between 2009 and 2021.

Lloyd Akers, an FBU rep and firefighter in Scunthorpe, said he could only afford to heat two rooms in his home last winter – his infant son’s and the living room – before the most recent spikes in heating bills. “To be honest, I feel like a father’s failure that I can’t provide for my son,” he said The observer. “I really don’t know how we’re going to get through this winter.”

A London firefighter, who asked to remain anonymous to avoid repercussions at work, said that despite having two jobs and his wife working full time, his family has £ 160 a month for essentials.

“Now we have gotten to the point that we have no luxury in life. We don’t have a social life, I don’t drink or smoke. I have no hobbies. We don’t buy clothes for ourselves, we buy the cheapest food we can find. I cut my hair. We literally reduced absolutely everything, ”she said. “And that’s before this latest increase in inflation.

“I’ve spent the last 12 years pulling on the belt and I have no belt to pull. And I can’t take a third job, I have to go to bed at some point,” he added.

“I’m not yet at the point where I need to use a food bank, but if this continues, I can’t guarantee I won’t be.”

Darrell George, an FBU representative and 25-year veteran of the London fire brigade, said the levels of poverty and financial hardship for firefighters are the highest they have ever been.

Related: Low-paid British workers say finances have never been worse

“When I arrived, some people had to take a second job for some luxuries – now everyone has to do it to pay the basic bills,” he said, adding that he took some extra overtime and works as a painter and decorator to do the ends themselves. meet.

“For me personally, it sometimes means working over 100 hours a week. Between 80 and 100 hours a week is normal and I’m not living an extravagant lifestyle ”.

He added: “The government is willing to gamble with public safety. We are no longer seen as an insurance policy. We must always try to prove our worth, to justify our existence “.

Darrell George a 25-year veteran of the London fire brigade.

Darrell George a 25-year veteran of the London fire brigade. Photography: Suki Dhanda / The observer

A Norfolk manager said the number of recruits applying for firefighters has dropped by 80% since joining over 30 years ago. Many shared concerns for the safety of firefighters and citizens alike should funding cuts, understaffing and overworking continue to worsen, with a warning that it was “only a matter of time before people die. “.

“Ordinary workers should not be made to pay the price of the cost of living crisis: they did not cause it. Yet this is the position we are in, “said FBU Secretary General Matt Wrack.” The 2% insult to firefighters will not be enough to stop the growing number of firefighters using the benches. food and struggle to pay the mortgage “.

The Interior Ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

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