Yesterday the chancellor froze personal tax thresholds. This is largely something of a stealth tax on those on low and middle incomes. In addition, he made no mention of pay increases for the public sector workers who have made such sacrifices and paid such heavy costs to protect us all in this time of crisis.
Last year, between the 5th October and 23rd November, one in three police officers in England & Wales reported that they had been threatened by someone they believed had Covid-19 and who said they would breathe or cough on them.
In Scotland, there is a police officer for every 313 members of the population. In Northern Ireland, there is one for every 270 but in England & Wales there is only one for every 466. [i]
Regardless of any demographic or geographical factors this is a shocking statistic and surely a factor in the relative crime rates. In 2019/20 there were 45 crimes per 1 000 in Scotland. In Northern Ireland, there were 59 but in England and Wales, there were 103, more than twice the level in Scotland.
There is one more dramatic and telling difference in the crime statistics. In Scotland and in Northern Ireland, they have fallen steadily since 2002 before then flattening at this lower level since 2007 but, in England and Wales, after falling with the Scottish and Northern Irish figures until 2010, the year of the Conservative/Liberal coalition election victory, they flattened before climbing steeply from 2014.[ii]
What might have caused this surge? Between 2010 and 2017, the number of police officers in English and Welsh forces fell by 19 921 or 14% according to Home Office statistics. [iii]
We all remember in 2019, then Home Secretary Theresa May insisting that there was no link between soaring knife crime in English cities and the police cuts she had instigated.
The causes of trends in crime are complex and involve multiple factors but John Apter, National Chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, was in little doubt when he said in 2019:
‘Whilst I fully accept that we have to look forward, I think the government and the prime minister in particular has to shoulder some of the responsibility for the government’s failed policies. What she’s done to policing is unforgivable and she’s now seeing the impact of that.’[iv]
What has the Government done since then to remedy the situation? In January 2020, the PM promised an additional 20 000 officers for England and Wales and by 28 January 2021, the Government announced that it was ‘on-track’ to hit that figure by 2023, with 6 620 so far. [v]
So, less than two years later, with the police force stretched beyond its limits, by the unprecedented demands of a pandemic and the complex/changing pattern of measures to control it, how can even the PM’s target be met? What does the Chancellor propose to encourage recruitment and of course retention?
Yesterday, the Chancellor had the opportunity to introduce a one-off wealth tax to tackle the mounting debt caused by the pandemic. He chose instead a stealth tax on those with modest incomes who have paid the greatest price in saving the rest of us, including of course him and his family.