11 May 2023
The Government’s flagship Police Uplift Programme to recruit an “additional” 20,000 police officers in England and Wales between September 2019 and May 2023 has been declared successful by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Home Secretary Suella Braverman.
Last month, on 26 April, the Government announced that it had delivered on its manifesto promise, with the Home Secretary claiming, “By meeting this remit there are now around 150,000 police officers in England and Wales. That is more than ever before in the history of policing”.
Reacting to the Government’s claims, National Chair Steve Hartshorn said, “The Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW) welcomes all the new police officers and wishes them a fulfilling and successful career.
“However, we would like to look a little harder at the ‘success’ of the uplift programme and examine the true state of policing numbers to better understand why it matters so much to our rank and file members.”
There are now 149,572 officers in England and Wales, and it’s true that this is the highest total number of officers by headcount on record. But it would be flawed to see this number in isolation, especially without considering the massive cuts imposed by the Conservatives in 2010 against the increase in population in the past decade.
In 2010, there were 146,030 officers by headcount (141, 631 FTE-full time equivalent) in 43 forces in England and Wales. Following the ill-conceived and widespread cuts imposed by the Conservatives from 2010, forces lost 14,151 FTE officers in under three years and by 2018 there were just 122,404 FTE officers in England and Wales. The Home Office at the time admitted that, “this is the lowest number of police officers since comparable records began in 1996. While records earlier than this are not directly comparable, this is the lowest number of officers since 1981.”
On the other hand, considering the population growth of more than 4 million over this period, the recruitment of more than 20,000 officers under the uplift programme reflects poorly on the per capita figures. Research organisations such as Full Fact, reveal that mid-year population estimates indicate that the number of police officers per capita has decreased from around 1 officer per 381 people in March 2010, to 1 officer per 404 people in March 2023.
“There has also been a drop in the number of special constables (SC) and the number of police community support officers (PCSO), many of whom will have made the transition to become full time officers, which amounts to robbing Peter to pay Paul,” said Mr Hartshorn.
The fall in PCSOs has been dramatic, they are down from 16,918 in 2010 to just over 8,000 as of September 2022. The fall in SCs has been equally steep, if not more so, from circa 20,000 in March 2011, to 7394 in December 2022 and now only 6829 as of March 2023.
These figures tell of an overall smaller combined total number of officers, PCSOs and SCs available across the regions, and the actual increase in police numbers is lower than many imagine.
By the Government’s own figures there are now 3,542 more officers than in 2010. Again, it’s worth pointing out that they are not FTE and is merely a head count. This small increase in police numbers does not reflect the growing population, which in 2010 was at 55.7 million across England and Wales, and today is projected to be circa 60.5 million. In real terms the growth in police numbers is of 270 new officers per annum since 2010.
As populations across the cities and rural communities of England and Wales have increased in number, the small increase in police numbers has not been evenly spread and Home Office statistics indicate that some police forces still have lower numbers of police officers than they had in 2010 – Merseyside for example.
The announcement of recruiting over 20,000 additional officers needs to be understood in relation to all the above conditions. Police officer numbers have been restored to match the number of police officers 13 years ago, and yet with fewer SCs and fewer PCSOs available, but an increased population, the reality is that policing numbers are still thread bare and even below what is needed. The success of the uplift programme is beginning to feel more like a sticking plaster to try and disguise years of underfunding and investment.
Why have police numbers fallen and what can be done about it?
Current rates of voluntary resignations from policing combined with the natural churn of retirees indicate that for the uplift to be really called a ‘success’, the recruitment drive must, at minimum, continue at its current pace if to recruit at least another 30,000 more officers. Yet there is no word from the Home Office on future targets or recruitment programmes.
Findings of an in-depth study by the University of Portsmouth published in November 2022 reveal that voluntary resignations from the police service have increased by 11 per cent in the past 12 months and by a whopping 72 per cent since 1996. In 2022, 3,433 police officers voluntarily resigned, accounting for 42 per cent of all leavers that year. Last year alone the total number of officers leaving the force was 8,173 and this figure has increased year on year, meaning that the trend will be for circa 9,000 leavers in 2023.
In order for police numbers just to stand still the recruitment drive that brought 20,000 new officers since 2019 will only have to increase in ambition.
Why are so many officers leaving?
The PFEW has been campaigning for #FairPayForPolice, better conditions and better equipment for its members for years now, but much of our messaging seems to be falling on deaf ears. “Recently, we commissioned an independent study by a non-partisan organisation, Social Market Foundation, into police pay which found officers have been subjected to real terms pay cut of 17 per cent since 2000. The Government’s written response, from Policing Minister, Chris Philip, to National Chair, Steve Hartshorn via his local MP, seems to be denial of any issue in policing, with almost every point of concern raised being dismissed as inaccurate or misleading. We have seen police staff numbers fall, police workloads increase, and we have seen police morale fall to an all-time low,” said Mr Hartshorn.
The University of Portsmouth’s findings also reveal that it is not the stressful and demanding aspects of the job that are leading officers to resign in their droves, but rather the challenges faced within the organisational structures – 57.1 per cent of leavers felt that ‘politics’ on a national level had informed their decision to leave. With poor investment, poor remuneration and arguably poor levels of respect for officers by the Government, it is no wonder that such conditions result in increased resignations. In recent months, the reputational damage done to policing by criminal officers, media coverage and reports such as the Casey Review of the Met police and the Stanko Report will only serve to impact police morale further.
The PFEW has long argued that poor pay, lack of resources and the disrespect shown to policing and officers by successive governments has a deep and lasting impacting on the service. It also motivates good, experienced officers to leave and in their wake others will follow.
“We call on the Government to address the issues that face policing rather than hide behind misleading targets and soundbites,” added Mr Hartshorn.
If the Government wants to retain dedicated and hard-working officers, motivate the new recruits and slow the increasing year-on-year fall in officer numbers, then the Government must visibly demonstrate the value it declares in policing. It must do so by actions not words. It is high time the Government ensures that police pay recognises the unique situation of police officers, commits to sustained long-term investment in policing fit for the 21st century, and shows our members the respect they deserve for putting their lives on the line day-in-day out to protect communities. In order for the public to have the police they deserve, the Government must demonstrate its commitment to policing and this would start with addressing the real terms pay cut of 17 per cent suffered by our members since 2000.