Whilst you were sleeping

Whilst you were sleeping this week, thousands of firefighters and their families were thrown over board by this government after rail roading though a pension regulation fit only for the dark ages.

Firefighters will now be expected to work to a flawed Normal Pension Age (NPA) of 60 from April 1st, that was first introduced by the Labour Government in 2006 after employers mislead the then government on the scope for redeployment when firefighters failed to maintain their fitness. 

Only 16 people have been redeployed since 2006 UK wide, with those opportunities fast drying up with the progressive cuts agenda and privatisation.

The NPA 60 of 2006 was brought in with no scientific proof one way or the other that a firefighter could maintain their fitness across the board into their 60s. The move by the coaliton to change all firefighters to NOA 60 saw a report commissioned by the then Fire Minister, Brandon Lewis, by Dr Tony Williams, which pointed to a potential 66-92% of firefighters failing the cardiovascular fitness test that is currently set at 42 VO2 from the age of 55. 

This would leave them in the unenviable position of having no job and no pension.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) members entered into a trade dispute with this government which culminated in almost 60 strikes taking place over the last 18 months as the Coalition Government continued to squirm its way through meaningful negotiations and force upon them the regulation that the government wanted and not the regulation that was best for the public, the firefighters and their families. 

To add insult to injury, devolved governments in Scotland and Wales have managed to negotiate with national FBU representatives, a position where strike action is no longer required and a reasonable position on the issue of firefighters facing capability dismissal from age 55 onwards on the grounds of fitness. 

In England, firefighters have not been so lucky as Westminster officials have stuck to their lies and rhetoric and the VO2 assessment has no consideration for the natural aging process which affects every man and woman differently.

 

Time and again lies have been told in parliament by successive ministers to secure the new regulation, not least in a debate which took place on December 15th 2014 in the House of Commons. Ministers such as Eric Pickles claimed to guarantee that firefighters would not face the terrifying prospect of no job and no pension, just because they got old. This was proven to be a lie, by the very people who would enforce the new regulations, the fire authorities and was confirmed  by the employers own secretary in correspondence received in February 2015. 

The result of this change has left firefighters in England, the public and their families, facing an uncertain future and an aging workforce. With the cuts being faced by the public sector due to the bailout of the banks as a result of the recession, there is a dangerous cocktail brewing as fewer and fewer firefighters are left available to attend incidents, such as the one in Holborn, London, this week where firefighters fought for 36 hours to bring under control an electrical fire underground.

   

 

  

The irony of the pension changes being forced through on April fools day should not be forgotten, as the heady mix of aging firefighters and cuts come to the boil, the people who were responsible will have blood on their hands and they should, no must be held to account. There is a vital difference in the meaning of the words should and must that is beyond Westminster.

Firefighters will, I am sure, continue to fight for pension justice right up to and beyond the general election – the injustice that has occurred, the lies and the deceit of this Coalition Government demands it, stand by them as they stand by you.

For further reading as to why and how the government have lied, try Lyn Brown MPs letter to Penny Mordaunt MP.

Pictures by BBC and @activrightbrain 

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The Choice, or the illusion of one? General Election 2015

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I was invited today to attend a Labour speech featuring the Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, who was there to discuss ‘the choice’ facing UK voters in next years general election, a Labour future versus the Tory threat.

 

Surrounded by banners reaffirming the Labour position of One Nation ahead of Scotland’s bid for freedom and independence, the gallery of Labour supporters took their seats and awaited the Shadow Chancellor’s arrival. His speech (which can be found in full here) focused heavily on debunking Tory claims on their recovery plan. In his speech he states: “Last Friday we learned that our economy has, at long last, got back to the size it was before the global financial crisis. The fact that Conservative strategists are desperate to persuade us all that this is a significant moment for celebration is revealing. Not only is it two years later than the Chancellor’s original plan said, and three years after the US reached the same point, it’s also the case that, as our population has grown, GDP per head won’t recover to where it was for around another three years – in other words, a lost decade for living standards.” Quite why or how any politician can be crowing about an economic recovery when we have; food banks, 1 in 4 now described as working poor, 1 million children in poverty, zero hour contracts, low pay or no pay workfare slave labour camps in Tesco and all in the sixth largest economy in the world? Balls made the startling claim that wealth trickles down. It doesn’t, it bubbles up. This is reinforced later in the speech when he states: “And new analysis today from the House of Commons Library shows that under David Cameron working people will have seen the biggest fall in wages of any Parliament since 1874. It’s set to be the first time since the 1920s that people are worse off at the end of the Parliament than they were at the beginning.” This comes at a time not long after the UK received the largest orders of private jets anywhere in Europe. The recession has not been bad for everyone, for some it has been an opportunity to makes significant financial gains, not least those private firms circling around the NHS for a slice of the billion pound industry that is the sickness and health of the very people who built it in the first place.

The biggest thing to come out of today’s talk was a commitment to abolish the bedroom tax during hastily finished question and answer (cut short on purpose for his obvious delay), though my particular question was reserved for closed doors and off the record. The Shadow Chancellor kindly reminded us at this point (as if we did not already know) that it was not the fault of teachers, doctors, nurses or police for the economic recession (like most politicians omitting the fire and rescue service), but due to the poor regulation of the banks. He didn’t, however, go so far as to apologise for the Labour party bailing out the banks in 2008 whilst crying out ‘too big to fail’ and condemning the children he spoke of aiding in the future this morning, to a life time of austerity and cuts to pay for it, nor did he say that the problems the NHS are suffering are nothing to do with immigration.  No, I guess that may have been too much to ask for but then we should always be mindful that whilst the largest transference of wealth from the poor to the rich took place on Labours watch with the banking bailouts, Ed Balls was busy the morning 1 million people marched against austerity in 2011, telling us all on the BBC that the cuts were too quick and too deep. He did not call for a position of no cuts. This rhetoric was backed up by Ed Milliband on the stage at Hyde Park when he repeated the same tired message. You couldn’t make it up. 

The problem with Labour is best summed up by John Pilger, who wrote after Thatcher’s death that her greatest achievement was not in changing the philosophy of one party but of two, meaning that on Labours return in 1997, her political ideology was accepted as the way things had to be; PFI’s, academies, NHS privatisation, Fire service privatisation – NPA 60 – cuts, ambulance service decimation, ATOS and a whole list of other stuff all started or took place on Labours watch last time around. What is their position now? More austerity, more cuts and likely more bailouts when this mini bubble bursts. Where is this choice and what is it exactly? How can anyone be expected to re-affiliate or support a party that left half the world burning on a 21st century crusade led by war criminal Tony Blair, a party that gave our NHS away to vultures in the private sector, a party that gave our children’s future away to the banking cartels, a party that says: “Don’t look at me, let’s talk about immigration, the EU and anything else other than what we’ve done and will do!” Even though these things are as irrelevant to the issues society has as the public services he commended today (minus the fire and rescue service of course) This is not the Labour Party of the people, like the Conservatives, it is one that is mired by big business and corporations, it’s biggest backer not the unions that formed it, but the media moguls and military interests that shape our world.

To say we have #TheChoice would actually be laughable if it wasn’t so serious. We have greater choice of coffee than in our political spectrum. Firefighters in Spain and the UK say ‘Rescue people, not banks.’ Can or will the Labour party say the same come 2015?