As a former Special Constable myself I have seen some of the pressures, stress and strain that police officers face first-hand. I have seen how officers simply cannot leave the job at the door. They take it home with them to their families.
When officers retire, many of the experiences, particularly the traumatic ones, stay with them. That was first recognised way back in the early 19th century, when Police Officers were amongst the first of any profession to get an embryonic pension scheme for what they described then as “officers worn out through length of service”. Though we perhaps wouldn’t describe it in those terms today, in essence that still happens.
In fact, we’ve never before had the number of officers leaving the service as we have had since 2010. 34,000 officers have taken retirement and 4,400 have taken medical retirements, with that figure almost doubling year on year to what we saw less than a decade ago. Over 25,000 officers have been forced off work due to sickness or stress.
To me, it’s not surprising. The service is almost unrecognisable to what I encountered as a Special Constable in the Met in the early part of this decade.
That’s exactly why the Pensions for Life campaign being run by the National Association of Retired Police Officers (NARPO) is so important. If a partner or spouse dies in the line of duty – very often having displayed heroism and commitment beyond most of us – it is an unimaginable tragedy for the family. Because of the nature of the job, very often these families will be young.
The least those officers would expect is that if their young widow went onto re-marry, they will still be looked after by the Government through the police pension. How can it be right that only those who remarried on or after 1st April 2015 are entitled to a pension? As far as I can see, it is a bureaucratic deadline pulled out of thin air.
The truth is this is a basic question of fairness. All widows and widowers should be treated the same regardless of their personal circumstances following the death of their partner or spouse.
It speaks to a broader point. Do we value those who serve as firefighters, police officers, NHS workers? And does that value extend into their retirement?
Just this week I questioned the Police Minister on the pension changes which came into force after 2015 and have affected the lives of so many. The courts, confirmed by the Supreme Court, found that the changes where unfair and discriminatory. Not only that, they were illegal.
I would urge the incoming Government to urgently right this wrong. Give the loved ones of the police officers who worked hard and paid their contributions what they are entitled to.