I look forward to Phillip Hammond’s autumn statement next month. It will, I’m sure, be refreshing to hear a chancellor who isn’t George Osborne promising to meet targets which aren’t possible in order to stabilise an economy which isn’t actually all that strong at all. If his comments at Conservative Party conference yesterday are anything to go by, then we should all hope to receive a dosage of clarity in the political fog in which we now live. Pleased so I was, also, to hear of support for renewed public spending; a term wildly misused and, in practice at least, lop-sided thanks to the frontrunners of the previous government.
Fresh faces inside Number 10 will bring new direction and focus to British government. The unique political situation ahead, namely Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, presents Hammond with the opportunity to scrap ludicrous pre-referendum economic targets and install newer, more realistic ones. The Treasury has pledged new funding for tech innovation, the biomedical catalyst fund and, thankfully, the building of new homes. Brownfield sites will at long last be pushed forth as centres for new house-building projects in a belated attempt to try and stunt the growth of rapidly-expanding housing bubbles (more on this another time).
These new measures are welcome, but one vital public service, ignored it seems since the London riots of 2011, has been left by the wayside. Earlier this summer, police figures were quietly released and jumped on by the BBC. They were shocking, even for those of us (like me) who do not necessarily relish the prospect of increased public spending. Figures such as those that follow will undoubtedly put the issue of cuts to policing into perspective. Sources are provided both here: http://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/SN00634/SN00634.pdf and here: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/544849/hosb0516-police-workforce.pdf
As we can see, in 2003 there were 110,910 frontline police officers, compared with just 106,411 in the year ending March 2016. A reduction of four and a half thousand is magnified by the notable increase in the population between the provided years. ONS estimates show that the UK’s population in 2003 lingered around the 59.7 million mark. By 2016, it had reached more than 65 million. An increase of almost six million people combined with a decrease in the number of frontline officers cannot be considered much of a success, and with the scent of Osborne-induced austerity still lingering in the air and a general public becoming increasingly frustrated with less than proactive police forces, I don’t know how inadequate funding can realistically be continued.
I am distressed that even a severely weakened and distracted Labour Party didn’t make more of an effort to draw attention to them. Writing as somebody who is related to police officers from two different police forces, I have seen for myself the effect that the cuts have had on individual frontline officers. The numbers highlighting sick leave are staggering, but not altogether surprising. They suggest to me that in all the babbling about crime figures and whether modest decreases justify piercing cuts to police forces, a more physical and emotional price is being paid by those serving on the streets. If you speak to police officers, most are one or more of fatigued, suffering from mental breakdown, demoralised or in chronic muscle or joint pain. It would seem reasonable to me to suggest that due to a sharp decline in the number of frontline officers, most still serving feel overworked and stressed as a result. This BBC report http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-37530914 into the current state of officers in Scotland is particularly eye opening.
But the effects of the cuts aside, it now seems most opportune to try and undo some of the damage done to our police forces with autumn’s upcoming statement. I don’t think policing will feature in the budget, but I consider it to be a top priority for the government. Cuts to police budgets have failed officers, the public and left trainees without employment hopes. Austerity has always been a disaster in the past, and is likely to be just as harmful in the future. Notice that it hasn’t brought about the recovery it was predicted to after the coalition government was formed. Notice also, that it tends to be supported by the rich, not the poor. You don’t have to be Left-wing to oppose austerity. I oppose it. Firstly, because it encourages economies to shrink (remember that national debt is relative to GDP), secondly, because it is grossly unfair to workers on the lower end of the income scale (particularly those who work in public services, who end up losing their jobs) and thirdly, it has had a crippling effect on fellow European Union members. Has austerity actually worked anywhere?
Philip Hammond is in a unique position as British chancellor. He is arguably under less pressure than any chancellor in recent memory. Despite crippling austerity measures, Osborne’s recovery was the slowest on record, and the public are fully aware that an EU departure will present bumps in the road to come. Here lie Hammond’s excuses in the event of economic failure. Even the opposition party back his plans to increase borrowing and ditch budget surplus targets. All the stars have aligned for Mr Hammond to really make his mark on British politics.