12 July 2022
Promises are not meant to be broken. When you make a promise, you earn respect and dignity; when you break it, you earn a loss of faith and trust. Sadly, the Government is fast slipping into the latter category by denying police officers of England and Wales their basic right – fair pay.
During our Annual Conference in May, I asked the Home Secretary – why are my colleagues one of the only groups of frontline public sector workers being punished? Today, I want to ask the Government – did our forebears make a mistake in trusting you by giving up our right to strike in 1919 against the promise of fair pay?
For the uninitiated, between 29 August 1918 and mid-1919 our country was thrown into disarray when more than 50,000 police officers under the guidance of the National Union of Police and Prison Officers (NUPPO) resorted to strikes after repeated calls for fair pay and work conditions fell on deaf ears of the Government.
A committee formed under William Henry Grenfell, 1st Baron Desborough, KG, confirmed the concerns of police officers. The Government of the day promised fair pay to police officers in return for giving up the right to strike and brought in the Police Act 1919, which also established by law the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW).
The Government must be reminded of this promise time and time again.
Workers in other public sectors are taking industrial action over pay and conditions this summer whilst we ‘police’ the strikes. Our members cannot strike and seem to have no redress to this loss as the law currently prohibits such action by police officers.
Policing is the service of the first and last resort. It is a service that cannot say no. Stretching our forces to a breaking point is having a detrimental impact not just on the service we want to provide to protect the public but also on the officers who provide it. With one in seven forces put into special measures, short-term funding and underappreciation of the sacrifices police officers make, it is a recipe for discontent.
Morale amongst police officers is at an all-time low. They have been subjected to a two-year pay freeze at a time when other sectors received a pay rise in consideration of the risk and work they undertook throughout the pandemic.
Police officers have endured a 20 per cent real-terms pay cut for 12 years and the cost of living crisis has created a situation where some officers are seeking the help of food vouchers and others are struggling to afford to put fuel in their cars to get to work.
All police officers want is fair pay. A reward that recognises their important place in society, for the dangers they face as they go about their duties fighting and preventing crime, enforcing law and order and protecting the vulnerable, while not having access to employment rights similar to other workers for safeguarding their pay and conditions.
Officer numbers are increasing because of the Government’s Police Uplift Programme which aims to recruit 20,000 officers by 2023. However, retention and attrition rates are reversing the situation with a concerning number of recruits leaving within months of starting their policing careers because of the pay squeeze. In addition to this, low morale is causing longer-serving, experienced officers to quit.
Our recent survey of 57,451 police officers found 93 per cent strongly agreed the Government undervalues the police, 65 per cent thought the current starting salary for police officers would negatively influence potential recruits from wanting to join the service and 69 per cent had thought about leaving the service in the past 12 months.
The public mirrors the concerns of our police officers. In a national poll of 2,000 members of the public conducted across eight locations in England and Wales, it emerged that as many as 75 per cent think police deserve a pay rise in line with inflation. The poll also found 74 per cent agreed police officers deserve a pay rise that adequately compensates them for the risk associated with their work, 79 per cent agreed dangerous jobs, like police work, deserve the pay to reflect that risk, and 72 per cent supported the Government giving a pay rise to the police at the next opportunity.
These are the views of the public – the electorate – and must be heard.
The responsibility of any Government is the safety and security of the public but how can it fulfil its obligations when the police are facing such huge challenges caused by the unfulfillment of their promises.
We now have a new Commissioner of Police in the Metropolitan Police Service, a new Policing Minister, a new Chancellor and an experienced Home Secretary, all of whom know how important policing is to everyday life. It is time the Government values that importance and realises that people will not forgive broken promises.