By Diane Abbott MP, Shadow Home Secretary
In a damning indictment of Tory austerity, this week we saw the unprecedented situation of three of Britain’s most senior Chief Constables giving warnings that new cuts will leave the largest police forces in England and Wales with officer numbers last seen in the 1970s.
Specifically, police in England and Wales have now been told that a £420m pensions shortfall must be met from their already reduced budgets, meaning that police forces will be left with no alternative but to cut the number of officers.
Ian Hopkins, the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester, the third biggest force, told ‘The Guardian’ that he had hoped to have 6,300 officers by the end of March 2021; instead he is likely to have 5,709 – fewer than the force’s 1975 total.
West Midlands police meanwhile faces unforeseen pensions expenses of £8.6m next year and £13.9m the year after. Chief Constable David Thompson said those costs were the equivalent of around 500 officers. Merseyside, the sixth biggest force, meanwhile said it fears losing 300 officers.
It is becoming clearer by the week that by slashing the policing budget even further the Tory Government is pushing police forces into crisis.
These warnings from the chief constables of the West Midlands, Greater Manchester, Merseyside and other forces came after shocking figures showed last week that as violent crime rises, already overstretched officers are being asked to do even more with even less.
The latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) crime figures last week showed that violent crime was up by 19%, with knife crime up 12%, the highest since comparable records began in 2011.
The ONS said police recorded 39,332 knife offences, the highest number on record and an annual increase of 12 per cent in the year to June 2018. The figures also confirmed that knife crime has been rising for four years.
In the same period, overall violence rose by 19 per cent to almost 1.5 million crimes, homicide increased by 14 per cent and robbery by 22 per cent.
Overall crime rose by 9 per cent in the year, with 5.6 million offences recorded – the highest total for 13 years.
In response to the crime figures, the Police Federation, whose members were told in 2015 to “stop crying wolf” over the impact of budget cuts, commented that the increases reflected years of warnings from themselves.
Chair John Apter said, “We need more boots on the ground,” adding that “we have lost nearly 22,000 officers since 2010, and there are now only 122,404 across the whole of England and Wales tasked with trying to stem the rising tide of violent crime. It’s not enough.”
The Tories insist they’re protecting police budgets, but in fact, since 2010 the government has cut police funding by 19% and they have now cut over 21,000 police officers since 2010, leaving forces across the country under staffed and overstretched.
This government holds the dubious honour of being the only one since records began in which police numbers have fallen every year it has been in office.
These continuous cuts to police numbers and their budgets is causing long-term damage to morale and effectiveness, as well as devastating our communities and leaving them at risk.
The Tories are failing in their duty to protect the public and keep our citizens safe, whilst denying the obvious truth that cuts have consequences.
You simply cannot keep people safe on the cheap. In contrast to the Tories, Labour’s commitment to policing and public safety is clear. To keep our communities safe, we will end the cuts, recruiting 10,000 more police officers.