The Cost of Austerity

I don’t want to get into a political debate. Professional discretion is the better part of valour – and some things are just too important to be left to partisan perspectives.

Neither am I about to venture into an ideological argument. There are better thinkers out there than me.

But I am interested in an honest and practical conversation about the reality of how things seem to be – at least, from where this Copper is standing…

Take a handful of the recent stories that have made the headlines.

Reality biting:

• Events in Paris, Belgium and beyond… A terrorist threat that is real and rising – and drawing closer to home… Concerns expressed by frontline Cops prepared to put themselves in harm’s way;
• Further anticipated reductions to policing budgets – and the suggestion that some smaller Forces may struggle to survive the cuts;
• Falling Police Officer numbers… Chief Constables beginning to speak out about the likely implications;
• A reported increase in Violent Crime in London – and elsewhere;
• A teenager suffering from Mental Illness compelled to spend two nights in a police cell… Apparently, no hospital beds available anywhere in the country… And the beginnings of a much wider debate about Mental Health and the role of the police in responding to those in crisis;
• A reported nationwide increase in Sexual Offences;
• Apparent difficulties being experienced by A&E Departments and the Ambulance Service… Officers being called to deal with hospital drunks and the suggestion that some injured people are being transported by police in the absence of any other alternative
• The College of Policing reporting that, in a number of significant respects, demand on the Police Service is growing – and becoming more complex.

Policing operates in the places of greatest vulnerability and need in society – in amongst the broken homes and broken bones, the broken hearts and broken lives.

This is the stuff of real life… and what will be the cost of Austerity?

• For the young woman trapped in an abusive relationship, caught between the horrors of staying and the terrors of going;
• For the child of that young woman, witnessing extreme violence on a daily basis and suffering unimaginable trauma as a consequence;
• For the 15 year old caught on the periphery of a gang and wanting desperately to put the knife down and get the hell out;
• For the man in his 20s experiencing psychotic thoughts, afraid that he’s going to go out and harm somebody;
• For the amateur shoplifter, too ashamed to ask for help at a Foodbank and running out of options to feed his family;
• For the young woman unable to access housing or employment, now standing on the parapet of a bridge, looking down at the Thames;
• For the child abused and the teenager trafficked;
• For the drug addict and the alcoholic, committing crime to feed a habit they just can’t seem to break;
• For the inhabitant of an online world, subjected to bullying, threats and wickedness of every kind.

It seems to me that the cost of Austerity will be greatest for those least able to bear it.

And what of the consequences for policing itself?

The fact is that we are being challenged as never before: greater threat; greater public expectation; greater complexity; greater risk; greater pressure… And those who stand on the frontline with us – paramedics, teachers, prison officers, A&E staff, youth workers and the rest – are feeling it too…

There is a cost to Austerity.

Now and in the future.

If Violent Crime rises, so will the cost of medical treatment; if the Terrorist threat escalates, so will the cost of prevention and investigation; if Domestic Violence rises, so will the cost of intervening in troubled families; if Gang Violence persists, so will the cost of complex murder investigations; if community provision for the marginalised and the vulnerable falters through lack of funds, the burden on the State will only increase; if policing becomes steadily more reactive – withdrawn from neighbourhoods and disconnected from communities – we are going to find ourselves in a very difficult place. And so it goes on.

We can’t keep demanding more for less indefinitely – there has to be a tipping point. That isn’t an argument against policing reform (heaven knows we need it), but it is a statement of fact.

And everything can’t be a priority. We have got to decide what matters more.

In a world of spending reviews and shrinking budgets – as we consider some of the critical issues of our time – the repeated question becomes:

‘Can we afford to do that any more?’

To which the response has to be:

‘Can we afford not to?’


12 thoughts on “The Cost of Austerity

Add yours

  1. Yes – OK. I understand the constraints that you write under. However we tend to bring problems and feel that we can’t suggest solutions because ‘that’s political’. It isn’t. We are the professionals and we (actually do) know best what the solutions should be. We have empirical evidence in how badly non professionals can misunderstood and misdiagnose Policing in Tom Windsor. We can no longer allow those voices to be heard unchallenged.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. You forgot about the cost of austerity on the wages of the cops. We’re Haemoraging young talent, keeping the crap and promoting at times the best if a very bad lot.
    And I say this as a mid service cop(at least til 1/4/15, when 15 years service is no longer mid service!), I don’t live an extravagant lifestyle and I’m
    Struggling to pay the bills, I’m treading water, I know many others are too. The problem with that is the ones with weaker resolve sucome to temptation.

    Ergo, Complaints and discipline depts are recruiting more…..

    Liked by 1 person

  3. To quote (in part) Foucault “The whole criminal justice operation has taken on extra-juridical elements and personnel” in fact so much so that to me a number of critical issues have arisen: a) Police are expected to perform a far wider role than was ever proposed under the Peel principals but not professionally matured or evolved to cope, b) We’ve forgotten how to say ‘no’ under the misguided, but noble banner of ‘if we don’t do it who will?’ c) We’ve convinced (some would argue deluded) ourselves, that we are the only professional body ‘capable’ of effectively performing some of these functions and last (but most certainly not least) our professional narrative is becoming one of ‘political victims’ who press on in the face of personal and professional adversity. Our colleagues in equally challenging professions such as nursing, prisons, fire fighting, medics, military, social services, teaching etc would probably argue … “Welcome (back) to our world”.


      1. Not all … And certainly not to same level of skill the majority of those professions deliver their own trade craft, but 100% agree time to say no at being political puppets to paper over the gaps in ‘public sector provision’, before we really melt down to ‘Jack of all … Master of … ‘ You know the rest 🙂


  4. Good points well made. I retired in 2008 and I am saddened by what has happened to policing in this country. We have a political class that cares about little other than being re-elected and clinging onto power and is prepared to throw anybody under the train in order to achieve that aim, dare I say it the police are now reaping the benefit of being seen as too closely with the aims of New Labour post 1997. I hope more Chief Officers are now prepared to ‘speak truth unto power’ but I fear that those who do will suffer a comprehensive monstering in the press.
    I believe that our Home Secretary and HMIC have a strategy of hoping that nothing nasty happens, as has been said ‘hope is not a strategy’ and as and when something happens they will seek to insulate themselves from the consequences of their decisions.
    Good luck for the future

    Liked by 1 person

  5. The week previously a consultant publicly voiced serious concerns regarding the cuts in the NHS for his A&E department now a high ranking police officer does the same the Ambulance service, Fire Brigade and Prison service must surely follow suit and speak out. It’s about the goverment doing the right thing and putting money in UK budgets where it belongs UK taxes for UK people to benefit from. The thin line of emergency services is getting thinner and thinner and may cost lives when that fire engine isn’t available that officers nearest back up was miles aŵay. That is the trust cost human life that’s what austerity can bring.


  6. I read yesterday mike panning and the 10 minutes afforded him to speak about the policing situation in this country and the loss of police officers on the front line in are communities through the house of commons speech. I remember when the riots in London and the devastation of the communities at that time especially how communities came together and cleaned up the streets where the looting and fighting occurred. My friend a police officer in the metropolitan police is a police officer in Highbury at the time of the riots, i rang to see how she was and said she been on the street all night and it was terrifying because nobody know what was going to happen. I remember watching a documentary on BBC Two with my children and over two weeks they had given the voice to the people who were offenders in the riots one week and another to the police officers. The young police officer talked about the fear of their lives at that time and how being on the streets were terrifying. Often the community just see the uniform and don’t realise that the police are just like us having families and normal everyday people who do a brilliant job in a time where are country is in disarray. I have seen the kindness of police officer’s in my case recently and also the community support officers in the community where i live. They have shown me how hard they work with sometimes little recognition of the things they do in are communities and often how society treats officer’s in a negative way. I wish that the government the whole of the government and the house of lords could see the cost of austerity in this wonderful country of ours and the devastation of the cuts it’s doing in the police, the legal departments to do with legal aid, the fire and ambulance service, the NHS. education ,housing, transport and the benefit system and the probation service being privatised. I want to say i really liked what you said about the community and the different types of policing that has changed and evolved over time. The law abiding citizens that respect the law and see the destruction of all services in are communities and how this will effect the safety of our communities in the future i like to say well said on your blog Sir.


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