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‘Living hand to mouth’: Record number of police officers turning to food banks

‘Living hand to mouth’: Record number of police officers turning to food banks

Worried officers have proposed setting up food banks for police recruits, The Independent can reveal, as one in 10 admit to relying on handouts.

Figures show that record numbers of police are struggling with food poverty and turned to food banks last year as wages stagnated.

One in five police officers is missing meals to get by and almost 10 per cent have used a food bank in the last 12 months, according to a survey of more than 6,000 serving officers.

This is up almost 50 per cent in three years and as officers warn morale is at an all-time low and forces are haemorrhaging staff, with one in five planning on quitting in the next two years.

The figures come after senior British Transport Police (BTP) officers proposed setting up a food bank to support skint recruits at Spring House training college in Islington, north London. However, the project was not pursued, The Independent understands.

The average police constable in England and Wales joins on just £23,556, according to the Police Federation, although there is an additional weighting for London-based forces and BTP pay scales are different.

The starting salary is more than £4,000 less than a constable who joined the police before 2013, when the then home secretary Theresa May slashed officer salaries in a raft of controversial austerity measures.

Comparatively, newly qualified band-5 nurses take home £28,407 – rising to £34,089 in the capital with the high cost area supplement (HCAS).

Experts fear the low wages are helping to push officers out of the force – with record numbers quitting last year – and will hamper efforts to drive up standards in the wake of a string of shocking scandals involving officers.

One police source told The Independent: “New recruits are expected to learn everything and change the face of policing – all while using a food bank. How can that be right?”

One police constable revealed he has applied to use food banks but has been turned away because he is employed and now relies on an app reselling food past its use-by date.

Mattheu, 49, from Southend, earns £32,000 a year working six days a week at the Metropolitan Police.

However, the single officer cannot afford to live in the capital and spends more than £200 a month on fuel to commute from Southend in Essex.

More than half his monthly salary is spent on rent, he said, with the rest eaten up by bills, food and other expenses.

“I have to skip meals at work because I can’t afford breakfast lunch or dinner. I work 10 hours a day and I’m always hungry,” he told The Independent.

“Because I work six days a week, I find meal prep really hard. I’m always in my overdraft – I am living hand to mouth.”

He said he struggles with council tax, utility bills and food costs due to the cost of living crisis, adding: “Everything is going up apart from our wage.

“I fear when I eventually do retire, I am going to be homeless. I have got no savings whatsoever. I do panic.”

Mattheu revealed he and his colleagues regularly consider moving on from frontline police work amid the tough conditions as forces are left reeling from the actions of rogue officers, in particular Met officer Wayne Couzens who kidnapped, raped and murdered Sarah Everard.

“Morale has been terrible over the last year with all these scandals coming out. We all work hard. We all try to fight crime. But every day we come in to hear that police are rapists and murderers,” he said.

“A lot of people talk about moving from frontline jobs to different departments in the police or alternatives to frontline policing.”

Annette Petchey, of police financial experts Metfriendly which carried out the research, said: “It simply is not acceptable that police officers do not have enough money to feed themselves and their families.

“I know I’m not at my best making decisions when I’m hungry so how on earth can we expect police officers to make life-or-death decisions when they are forced to skip meals because of their financial situation?”

She insisted policing is at a “true inflection point”, saying it is “little wonder” so many are considering leaving the force.

“More has to be done to support our emergency services lifeblood and to recognise the critical value the police play,” she added.

It comes after the Police Federation, which represents rank and file officers, warned earlier this month that policing is facing a “perfect storm” in recruitment and retention, despite a seven per cent pay rise for officers last year.

The federation says police pay hasn’t kept pace with other public sectors or inflation, with officer pay up just 40 per cent between 2000 and 2023, compared to 98 per cent in other public sectors.

Chair Steve Hartshorn told The Independent: “They are feeling that it’s just not worth being a police officer any more. We have never known it so bad.”

Responding to the food bank figures, he added: “This is not a great advert for policing in 2024 and cannot be allowed to continue.

“How can we have professionals that are unable to afford to feed their families, yet at the same time we see them risk their own lives to rescue people from a burning building or stand in the way of violence?

“We, as a society, owe it to our police officers, staff and their families, to do better.”

Meanwhile, Met commissioner Sir Mark Rowley has called for an above-inflation pay rise and a £2,000 boost to the London weighting to help recruits afford housing, childcare and other costs in the capital.