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PSNI officers say 'they can barely cover the cost of household bills'

PSNI officers have called for action to improve pay and wellbeing.

One in 10 of Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) officers said don’t have enough money to cover essential household purchases every month.

Their feedback was part of the annual workforce survey described as ‘grim and depressing’ by their Federation leader.

And officers also raised concerns over health and wellbeing.

There were 2,368 responses, which is more than a third of federated ranks from Constable to Chief Inspector.

It is also one of the first indicators of how badly the frontline was hit in the early stages of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Just over a third said they had, or think they had, COVID-19. Three percent required hospital treatment after having a positive antigen or antibody test.

The findings explain why the force took action during lockdown by closing stations – and why federation leaders called for officers to be given priority for vaccination when it first became available.

A fifth of officers – say they occasionally don’t have enough to pay for essentials.

Close to three quarters of officers say their pay is not enough to maintain their standard of living and six out of 10 expressed dissatisfaction with their overall remuneration.

Currently, the salary for a probationer with the force is £24,780 rising to £41,130 at point seven.

But they haven’t been awarded a pay rise – partly due to the renewed turmoil in the Assembly which means decisions on budgets cannot be made.

The NI Fed calculates that this means pay packets have been eroded by more than 20% over the last decade.

The pay deal is part of the developing financial crisis facing the force.

Chief Constable Simon Byrne revealed at the beginning of the month that the force is facing a cash shortfall of £226m over the next three years.

He hasn’t ruled out job losses unless the NI government resolves the long-running stalemate between the finance and justices departments on top of the Assembly’s impasse.

“Owing to the precarious nature of our opening position in April 2022, it seems inevitable that, by mid-summer, we will be compelled to make some difficult decisions which will have tangible impacts on both service delivery and confidence in policing,” he warned.

In February, 30 new officers began duties but the Fed predicted retention will be an issue if the current pay crisis continues.

Police Federation for Northern Ireland’s Chair, Mark Lindsay said: “Hundreds of colleagues are facing a cost-of-living cliff edge and it’s frightening for them and their families.

“There’s a perception in the wider community that police are well paid but this gives the lie to that mistaken view. For over a decade now, police pay has been eroded, which means the government doesn’t properly value what we do on behalf of the entire community. This needs to change and change quickly.”

Mental health concerns were also raised in the survey and has been a long-term concern for PFNI.

Almost half of officers who responded (48%) said the PSNI did not encourage officers to talk openly about mental health and wellbeing. Fifty-eight percent said they wouldn’t feel confident about disclosing any difficulties with their mental health to line managers.

The survey found nine out of 10 officers (89%) say morale is low or very low. Sixty-six percent said team morale was low or very low, while six out of ten said personal morale sat in the same category.

The force’s official response accepted there were legitimate concerns but made clear a pay rise was a ministerial decision.

Deputy Chief Constable Mark Hamilton said: "We take the welfare of our officers and staff extremely seriously and recognise the challenges to wellbeing and morale which have been highlighted in the Police Federation survey.

“We have made significant investment in our health and wellbeing and this will continue to be a priority for us as a Police Service.

He added: “We will continue to work with the Police Federation and other staff associations to address those issues which are within our control.”

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