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Let me start by paying tribute to my hon. Friend Holly Lynch for her outstanding work in pursuing this issue and to my hon. Friend Tracy Brabin for her wonderful maiden speech today. She spoke with supreme confidence, sincerity and empathy, and I am sure she will be a great champion for her constituency, just as Jo was.
As we have heard today, the thin blue line keeps getting thinner, which threatens the safety of not only the public, but the men and women working all hours to protect us. Only today, the front page of my local paper, the Ellesmere Port Pioneer, pays tribute to officers who stopped a man setting himself on fire. The truth is that a cut in the number of officers of nearly 20,000 from 2010 to this year has led to the police sometimes being simply unable to attend certain incidents, and to response times at night getting longer and longer. Many constituents tell me that they no longer report incidents because they know the police do not have the resources to respond; this is creating a serious crisis of public confidence in the capacity of the police to respond to incidents.
Ahead of this debate, I asked a number of local officers for their views. One told me:
“Along with every officer that I know;
I joined the Police to help people, even those people who hate the Police—we are there for everyone. I’m now surrounded by demoralised colleagues desperately trying to put a brave face on things, but completely overstretched and unable to carry out their jobs to the level that they would like to. This is not an accident;
it is a political choice and one which I am concerned will lead to the injury and death of officers and members of the public.”
It should be noted that this officer sent their message during a week of night shifts working alone.
Another officer raised similar concerns about the numbers of officers, but also raised the issue of the impact of cuts to youth justice, diversionary projects, youth workers, social services and mental health services on the workload of the police. He told me that too often officers who should be working to protect the public are filling in the gaps left by the underfunding of other public services. The experience of police officers I have heard from is similar to that of those in the NHS and other areas of the public sector, where cuts to numbers are leaving services stretched to breaking point. This is perhaps most striking in the case of the NHS and social care, but it can be found across the public sector as a whole; we know that cuts to one budget often have an impact on many other services, and because it is often left to the most expensive services to pick up the pieces, these cuts can often be a false economy. I hope the Government will reflect on that.
Finally, I want to discuss the estimated 23,000 assaults on our officers in England and Wales each year, each one of which is an attack on all of us. In my area of Cheshire, there were 442 recorded assaults on officers in 2015-16, which equates to one in every four and a half officers being assaulted during the year. If workers in any other profession were asked to face such a risk while going to work, there would be a national outrage, and we should look at our police officers no differently. We need to send the message out to the police and other public servants that we know they do a tough job, which is sometimes dangerous, but we value them and want them to be safe, and we want the full force of the law to be used against those who would use violence against them.