Police morale is plummeting - and ministers are turning a blind eye

In an op ed first published in The Times, the national vice-chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, Ché Donald, speaks out on plummeting morale.

Feb 17, 2022

After more than a decade of pay caps and freezes, the Police Federation of England and Wales’s (PFEW) pay and morale survey reveals a worsening morale crisis in policing and acts as a health warning for anyone considering joining the service.

The survey results make clear the financial pressure on police officers and their families, and the stress this places on them just to make ends meet. Policing is a uniquely challenging profession with the growing demands and dangers officers face – the Government and police leaders can no longer bury their heads in the sand.

Police officers more than stepped up during the pandemic and faced rising levels of assaults and continually changing rules and legislation. The reward for their efforts – a zero percent pay award. Police officers heard the warm words of thanks, they saw government ministers queuing up on television to give thanks. Yet that thanks was quickly forgotten the moment it came to recognising their efforts in their salary.

Instead, they had to watch other public sector workers they had battled together with in the fight against the pandemic get a fair pay increase, while they received nothing. How do you think that makes them feel? After an 18 per cent real terms pay cut since 2010, pension reform, and now fuel, utility and food prices on the rise, as well as a planned increase in National insurance contributions. How can that be right?

For most people, it seems the Government gives with one hand, while taking back with the other. But for police officers they go a step further – they take with one hand and then take even more with the other.

Police officers are realistic. They understand the public purse is not a bottomless pit. But the sheer unfairness of being snubbed for a deserved pay rise, in the face of increasing personal costs is not fair and will not be readily forgotten by police officers and their families across England and Wales. I speak as the national vice-chair of PFEW, the staff association for 130,000-plus rank and file officers – the undisputed voice of policing.

Only last July, the Home Secretary said the pay freeze for police officers was to help: ‘get the public finances back onto a sustainable path after unprecedented government spending on the response to Covid-19′. Since then, it appears there has been a lack of any strategic awareness in the Treasury about spending policies while its ‘sustainable path’ resulted in the Treasury writing off £4.3 billion of Covid business loans.

It is preposterous this government claimed it could not afford a pay increase for police officers, not least when police forces had already budgeted for the cost from central and local government money in the annual grant settlement.

In the face of all of this, is it any wonder that police officers have little to no faith in this government? Police officers are Crown Servants – we do not have employment rights and cannot take industrial action. So the Government needs to demonstrate it understands this and reward officers fairly for the incredibly difficult and demanding job they do on behalf of society.

The Government needs to restore police officers trust in it. It needs to understand what police officers are telling them and recognise the need for a fair, open and transparent mechanism for determining pay. Otherwise, the damage will see morale fall even further. It will see people leave police forces in droves and have a negative impact on the service’s capability for decades to come.

We know that the vast majority of the public support us. They value and appreciate their police officers. They saw them in their towns, villages and cities keeping communities safe during the pandemic. They see we are there when they dial 999 and need help. When others run from danger, they see us running towards it. So, if the Government turns a blind eye to police officers, it turns a blind eye to the people of England and Wales who we serve. And they do so at their peril.

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