Last week PFEW National Chair Steve Hartshorn said 'Last week we saw something that I cannot recall ever seeing before in my 28 years’ service –chief officers, still in the job and not yet retired, taking up the Police Federation of England Wales’s (PFEW) call asking the Government for a pay award that takes account of soaring inflation.
Referring to its submission to the Police Remuneration Review Body, Chief Constable Jeremy Vaughan, the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) pay and conditions lead, declared: “Police officers deserve fair pay that reflects their unique duties and contribution to society, including their responsibility to run toward danger, as well as recognising that they are restricted in taking on second jobs and are not allowed to strike”. The chief of the UK’s largest police force, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley, did not mince words either and called for an inflation-based and evidenced pay award.
Of course, it is gratifying to see chief officers not waiting until they have left the service before joining the just cause of rank and file officers, especially when we have been standing alone for years and shouting from the rooftop against abysmal pay. It was about time our chiefs, with who we work shoulder to shoulder in protecting communities and upholding the law, voiced our hardships so that the forces they lead are not pushed to the brink of collapse.
It is now overwhelmingly evident and established across the board that British policing, which was hailed as the best in the world, cannot be maintained if the Government keeps neglecting the very real struggles of rank and file officers. Police officers in England and Wales have suffered a real term pay cut of 28.7 per cent at the lowest end of the pay scale over the last decade. They have withstood two pay freezes since 2010 and presently are battling an excruciating rise in the cost of living, sometimes finding it difficult to provide food while they put their lives on the line 24/7, 365 days a year and protect the public, as no one else does.
What is baffling is the Government’s complacency in seeing the writing on the wall. The annual attrition rate in our forces is getting close to the 7,000 mark and threatens to accelerate with Australia luring our skilled officers with better salaries. It is reported that, every day, as many as nine officers are registering interest in taking up Australia’s offer to join their police force. Clearly, everyone is worried as even the Government's highly ambitious plan to recruit 20,000 police officers by end of next month will not be able to compensate for the loss of trained and experienced officers.
Police superintendent ranks also support the PFEW’s campaign for fair pay and warned the Government of a ‘bleak future for policing’ asking ‘to reform the pay process and respond to the workforce morale crisis’. Paul Fotheringham, President of the Police Superintendents’ Association (PSA), has told the Government that they have serious concerns about the future of UK policing as their members are painting, with evidence, the worst picture of life as a police officer recorded to date.
The latest PSA member survey found 93 per cent saying police treatment by the Government impacted negatively on their morale; PFEW’s Pay and Morale Survey 2022 revealed 95 per cent of officers felt the same. More than 8,000 (full time equivalent) police officers left the service in England and Wales in the year ending March 2022 – the highest number of leavers since comparable records began, and at least 1,800 of those officers recruited under the Government Police Uplift Programme have already voluntarily resigned.
I have said it before and I will say it again, to rebuild the shattered thin blue line the Government must give police officers a pay award that acknowledges the cost-of-living crisis, their unique responsibilities and the restrictions imposed on their public and private lives. It also needs to take account that police officers do not have access to industrial rights. Otherwise, the prestigious profession will lose its shine and officers will be pushed even further into disillusionment. The Government must realise – it’s now or never.