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Generous? Five Myths About Firefighter Pensions and the Government's Attacks

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Over the past few months, the government has repeatedly claimed that their proposed pension scheme for firefighters will be "one of the most generous" in the public sector. However, firefighters argue that they will be priced out by a scheme that will be far more expensive, but worth much less.

There are currently two pension schemes: the 1992 Firefighters Pension Scheme (FPS), and the 2006 New Firefighters Pension Scheme (NFPS). Both schemes have already faced attacks and things will only get worse under the new proposals.

Here are five myths about firefighter pensions that can be easily busted.

MYTH ONE: Firefighters' currently get a lavish pension deal

As a result of two years of increased contributions, firefighters already pay significant sums for their pensions. Firefighters who take home around £1,650 a month will now pay around £320 a month (£3,800 a year) year into their pension if they are in the FPS scheme. This is scheduled to rise to more than £4,000 a year from next year. Higher earners pay an even larger proportion of salary.

MYTH TWO: Firefighter schemes are very expensive to employers and the taxpayer

The government's proposals will mean that the proportion that employers pay in contributions compared to firefighters is among the worst in the public sector, meaning it is far from generous. Conversely this means the proportion of pension costs paid by firefighters will be one of the highest in the public sector. For most firefighters this will be 14.2% of their salary from April next year, with many paying even more.

MYTH THREE: Firefighters will be able to retire with a pension of £19,600

This is only the case if a firefighter joins at 20 (which of course many firefighters don't), and is able to work until 60. The reality is that the majority won't be able to achieve this. In fact government's own research says that up to 92% of current firefighters won't be able to maintain operational fitness until 60 and will have to leave with a significantly reduced pension to avoid a fitness related dismissal.

MYTH FOUR: Firefighters can retire at 55 with a pension

Under the government's current proposals, firefighters who are forced to retire at 55 because their fitness is declining will lose 47.1% of their pension. This will mean instead of the £19,600 sum they will get just over £9,000. The government in Westminster had proposed that this reduction would be 21.8% (a proposal that is still the position in Scotland). It was withdrawn in by Brandon Lewis on 1 November when firefighters refused to endorse or agree to the unworkable proposals.

MYTH FIVE: This is just a temporary measure because of the need to cut costs because of the economic crisis

There is no end in sight for the government's attacks. Proposals for 2014 will see FPS members paying over £4,000 a year, and NFPS members almost £3,000. In 2015 contributions for most NFPS members will increase to over £3,600 per year as they transfer into the new scheme. As a result, their pensions contributions will have increased by 50% in four years. Firefighters have also been told to expect further increases in 2016 and subsequent years (although these details have not yet been released).