UK police pay has fallen quicker in real terms than similar roles and in the public sector workforce more widely, a think-tank has found.
Analysis of Office for National Statistics (ONS) data by the Social Market Foundation found that police pay fell by 17% in real terms between 2000 and 2022.
However, protective service workers and public sector workers saw their real-terms pay rise by 1% and 14% respectively over this period. Across all employees, real pay rose 5% over the 22 years.
Nominal police pay rose by 39% in the 22-year period, while inflation was 67%. Pay for all employees, on average, rose by 76%.
If the same trends were to continue over the next five years, the SMF said police officers could see their real-terms pay decline by a further 4% by 2027, compared with a predicted 1% and 3% rise for private and public sector workers.
The SMF’s UK police pay trends commentary, written by chief economist Shreya Nanda, suggested that the real-terms pay may in part be due to restrictions on police officers’ right to strike following the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. The same restriction applies to prison officers, who have seen their real pay decline by 12% over the same period.
The analysis also found that since 1979 police constable starting salaries have risen considerably more slowly than earnings as a whole across the economy (1% per annum, compared with 1.8% per annum).
The Police Federation of England and Wales has called for a pay increase of at least 17% to make up for the real-terms losses seen over the past 20 years.
Chair Steve Hartshorn said the research was a “wake-up call for policy makers in the UK”.
“For a long time now, the Police Federation of England and Wales has been working to achieve better pay and working conditions for our members. Police officers put their lives on the line every day to serve and protect their communities,” he said.
“That is why today our National Council has taken the decision to call for a minimum of 17% increase in pay for our officers. The government can no longer sit by and ignore our members’ basic needs and must recognise the impact of this independent research.
“In the context of ongoing inflation, indications of a police retention crisis, and reports of officers being forced to turn to food banks, the issue of police pay must be addressed now after more than a decade of being ignored.
“Police officers deserve to be treated with respect and dignity, and that begins with better pay. Pay that not only reflects the cost-of-living crisis that many of us face but puts right the 17% decline since 2000 and compensates officers for the dangers they’re exposed to as part of the job. They must be compensated fairly for doing a job that is so important and unique that they do not have access to industrial rights.”