It’s been a month since I was first appointed as Labour’s Shadow Policing Minister and with a wide-ranging brief it’s been a busy few weeks.
I’ve been made increasingly aware of the crisis of resources and morale affecting our police. With 20,000 frontline officers cut since 2010 it’s meant that we’re not only seeing fewer officers on our streets, but all sorts of other knock-on effects.
The number of sick days taken by police officers for mental health issues has shot up recently, as fewer officers have to tackle an ever increasing volume of work. They’re now answering as many calls each night as used to be common on New Year’s Eve, the busiest night of the year.
And it’s not just shrinking forces tackling the same volume of crime – the loss of neighbourhood policing has meant low-level crime like our problems with off-road bikes has been able to be carried out with impunity, while stretched resources have made bike theft more common and easier to get away with. I visited the South Yorkshire Police off-road bikes team, and while they’re doing a good job, they need proper resources and powers to keep our communities safe.
I’ve discovered the increasing lost generation among police officers, as the proportion aged over 40 has risen to almost half. Just 5% of all PCs are now under 26, a drop of over a third in the last decade. With the pension age for those over 50 protected at 55, we’ll see a whole generation of officers gone by 2022, piled on top of existing cuts and recruitment freezes.
The number of armed police ready to act in case of major crimes threatening the public has dropped too, with one in ten armed officers losing their jobs since 2010.
This first month has shown that while our police are working harder than ever, the Government’s treatment of them has been shameful and has had the end result that our country is less well protected. You can’t protect people on the cheap – and I’ll keep working to get the support our police need to keep our country safe.