The RNLI is warning that beaches could be left unguarded once restrictions are lifted if the government furlough scheme is not extended to include its seasonal beach lifeguards.
Currently, there is no financial support in place for returning seasonal workers, meaning lifeguards could be forced to find work elsewhere instead of waiting out the lockdown and returning to beaches as normal once they are reopened.
Usually, RNLI lifeguards would already be patrolling U.K beaches by this point in the year, keeping beachgoers and visitors safe along the nation’s extensive coastline, with the service building to a peak season patrol covering 240 beaches across the UK.
Lifeguards provide a crucial lifesaving service for many coastal communities and visitors, including those that rely on tourism for their economy. As a result of the seasonal nature of their employment, the government’s decision to not extend the furlough scheme has left many lifeguards without the income on which they rely upon year after year.
The RNLI has offered to provide some support to those lifeguards who were already engaged in early season work, but as a charity it simply cannot match the 80% pay package that the extended furlough scheme would provide or extend this support to the large number of peak season lifeguards who had not yet been fully recruited or engaged.
“With the prospect of restrictions being lifted in the summer months, the worry is that the beaches will see record numbers of families and other visitors flocking to the coast,” says Tom Houghton, a RNLI Senior Lifeguard in Newquay. “It will be a real struggle for lifeguards to provide any kind of lifesaving service without financial support for the staff now.”
“Training to be a lifeguard is tough – you have to understand the dangers of the sea and the coastline, be physically fit enough to rescue people in rough water, be competent in advanced first aid and as a senior Guard I have to know how to plan and lead patrols and rescues . So if experienced lifeguards have to get other work to make ends meet and then aren’t available when the service is needed in the summer, they won’t be easy to replace.”
Lifeguards are currently lobbying their respective MP’s to request an extension to the furlough scheme to include returning, seasonal workers like themselves who provide a vital lifesaving service.
“We want to be there to keep people safe at the beaches when restrictions lift,” added Dave Kelly, another senior lifeguard. “Proper lifeguard support is crucial to the safety of our beach visitors and important for the tourism industry and we want to help our communities get back on their feet.”