Student PC Charlotte Lancaster, 23, is passionate about policing, having joined the service in a civilian capacity at the age of 18, but feels demoralised as she is left juggling a business on the side with working and studying, to help pay the bills and afford fuel for commuting and visiting her family.
I joined North Yorkshire Police on 29 June 2020 under the Police Constable Degree Apprenticeship scheme, and I have nearly completed that, having just submitted by dissertation.
At the moment I live with my partner Sam in Sunderland, but it is difficult because when the mortgage goes up this year, he'll be taking on more of the bills as our pay doesn’t factor in the cost-of-living crisis.
It is very stressful for me as I commute an hour each way, and my family live the other side of Yorkshire, around two hours away, so being able to comfortably afford fuel is a big concern.
I used to visit them every couple of weeks, but now I can only afford to do this every month, or six weeks, which is heart breaking as my grandad is terminally ill. Balancing being able to see my terminally ill grandad and knowing that each time I see him might be the last time, with trying to find the 40 quid in fuel, is degrading.
I do at least one extra night shift a week, work a lot of my rest days at home on my degree, which takes up a lot of my time, and I have a business on the side, approved by the force, just to make ends meet.
I started renovating furniture when I was 18 as a bit of a hobby, and then I found it could be a nice way to turn over some extra cash. I find myself doing that every day after work and on rest days, but it comes back on to my personal life as I’m constantly tired and struggle to make time for my partner, friends, and family.
I’ve worked in North Yorkshire Police since my 18th birthday in a civilian capacity. So, I've not only seen the erosion of my colleagues’ pay, but I’ve also witnessed my own pay eroding because I was on a civilian’s wage as a detention officer in custody with a 25 per cent shift allowance at the time. I have taken a £550 per month pay cut and I've now been an officer for three years and I am still not up to the wage I was on before as a civilian.
It's quite degrading and it makes me feel undervalued. I'm not saying we should be entitled to earn thousands and thousands of pounds more than other professions - I just think we should be paid fairly.
I have had incidents that have impacted my mental wellbeing really quite significantly, including being first on scene to a triple fatal road traffic collision last year. I've been in some situations where I genuinely feared for my own personal safety as a response officer on a night shift, then checking my bank balance on the same day, having almost nothing and I remember thinking, ‘is this actually worth it?’
It gets me down because this is all I've ever wanted to do since I was a kid and there's never been anything else I've wanted to do. Having to ask myself that question as to whether I want to leave the police and do something else, it's demoralising.
I'm a qualified criminal counsellor, so I could leave and do that, however, I wouldn't be as invested or enjoy it as much - my heart is not in any other job in the private sector in the same way that it is in policing - but I wouldn't be working night shifts and I'd have money left over at the end of the month.
My line managers and supervision know morale is low, particularly with the cost-of-living crisis, and they're doing everything they can. I feel really supported by my line managers, but we had 32 on our intake and I think we're down to 25/26 and I know a couple of them left over pay and conditions.
Listen to her powerful testimony.