Eight years of austerity has left workers across the public sector stretched as never before and the Metropolitan Police are no exception. With much of the social safety net – social security, health and youth services – hollowed out, London’s police officers are operating in a context that’s incredibly challenging and has inevitably contributed to a rise in violent and serious crime. Despite this, and the government’s pledge to put an end to their austerity policies, the cuts continue with the Met expected to make a further £325 million of savings by 2021.
It should, perhaps, come as little surprise then that spirits in the Met are below par, with a Police Federation survey this year revealing 95 per cent of respondents reporting that morale in the force is low. What has proved genuinely shocking however is the revelation – in a series of written responses to questions I submitted to the Mayor of London – that an astonishing 328,010 rest days allocated to officers were cancelled between January and September 2018. If rest days continue to be cancelled at that rate, and there is no indication things are getting any easier, then they will likely significantly surpass the 2017 total of 375,012 rest days by the end of the year.
The strain all of this is placing on officers is obvious. In the first nine months of this year, there were 523 police officer voluntary resignations. This is in stark contrast to the 294 total for the whole of 2010. But as we’ve seen the Met grapple with over £700 million in cuts since then, perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised.
We should, however, be concerned about what this means for the Met’s capacity to keep us all safe. With police officer numbers dropping as further savings are demanded, this question necessitates a urgent response from the government. Police officer numbers per head of population have dropped to their lowest point for 20 years, with just 3.3 officers per 1,000 Londoners. Moreover, the latest figures show that, as of June this year, the Met is facing a shortfall of 482 detectives, and is being forced to rely increasingly on civilian investigators.
The Met are doing everything possible to tackle serious crime on our streets, but there is increasing concern that tackling other “low level” crime has been unavoidably put on the back burner. Just this week, we heard reports that 33 per cent of crimes reported to the Met were “assessed out” (some say “shelved”) after a single phone call was made to the victim.
The Home Office’s announcement of the provisional police funding settlement, which will shape the Met’s budget for 2019/2020, is expected this month. Recently, Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, acknowledged the need to “take a fresh look at that and make sure that police – not just in London, but across the country – have the resources that they need”.
We now need to see him putting his money where his mouth is. I want to see the Home Secretary using the settlement to give our police service the funding boost it desperately needs. With Londoners’ safety on the line, the government cannot afford to sit this one out.
Unmesh Desai is a Labour London Assembly Member.