The chair of the Police Federation, which represents almost 140,000 rank-and-file officers in England and Wales, said praise for their actions during the Covid pandemic had “amounted to nothing”.
“Over the last decade, we have seen a real term pay cut of around 20 per cent and other costs haven’t stood still – gas, electric and fuel costs all continue to rise, and national insurance contributions increased,” Steve Hartshorn told a conference in Manchester.
“Our members are told they are brave; they are told they do a unique job. They were thanked for putting themselves and their families in danger as Covid gripped the country, and yet that acknowledgement amounted to nothing.
“It’s frustrating to see and hear from colleagues who are struggling to feed their families and going to food banks.”
Mr Hartshorn addressed the home secretary directly during his speech, which received long and loud applause from police officers gathered from across the country.
“Home secretary, what has gone wrong?” he asked. “Why are my colleagues one of the only groups of frontline public sector workers being penalised in their pockets?”
He said he was “angered” to hear of experienced officers leaving policing “not because they want to, but because they can’t afford not to”, adding: “This cannot go on.”
The Police Federation withdrew from the official police pay review body last year, saying it “no longer has confidence” in the home secretary following a pay freeze for officers earning more than £24,000.
Ms Patel said the body paid an important role advising the government and urged the body to engage with it, but Mr Hartshorn said its “hands were tied by the government” and called it “anything other than independent”.
He said that because police are unable to strike in law, they were being “denied the employment rights” of other public sector workers, adding: “The government cannot continue to treat the police as the poor relation of the public sector.”
The Police Federation chair called for the relationship between officers and the government to be reset, adding: “We mean no more gimmicks.”
Ahead of the conference, the home secretary had announced that she would allow special constables to be armed with Tasers, but it was not among the federation’s priorities for change.
They included increases in pay and annual leave provision, better psychological support for officers and the tackling of delays in misconduct investigations.