Serious Violence

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:31 pm on 15th May 2019.

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Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Shadow Home Secretary 3:31 pm, 15th May 2019

People should stop using that old Whips Office line. The reason we voted against the Government’s proposal on funding was that we did not think it was enough money. Hopefully, nobody will raise that point again.

Government austerity has contributed to increases in the factors underlying the causes of serious violent crime, undermined prevention and cut police numbers, so there are inevitably fewer arrests and convictions. Ministers and other Members will say that the Government have recently increased spending on the police. In real terms, if we take away the precept, and once the cost of police pensions is taken—[Interruption.] We are talking about central Government funding. The problem with the precept, as my hon. Friend Louise Haigh will perhaps explain to Conservative Members, is that it inevitably falls more heavily on poorer areas than on wealthier areas. We are saying that the claims about increased spending are not as impressive as they might seem, once we take away the cost of police pensions, which had to be met, and once we realise that much of that increased spending actually comes from the precept rather than central Government spending. In any event, this is a sticking plaster on a gaping wound—a wound inflicted by the Government’s own cuts.

The National Audit Office, which I hope will not be accused of being party political, has previously shown that central Government funding for the police has been cut in real terms since 2010. Offensive Weapons Bills and knife crime orders are one thing, but communities also need actual police officers in place to make use of those new legislative options.

It should be clear that Ministers are in danger of tying themselves in knots. On the one hand, they have tried to insist in the past that there is no correlation between the cuts they have imposed on the police and rising serious violent crime. On the other hand, the Home Secretary has boasted to us today that the Government are now providing more resources to the police. Which is it? Do police resources and police strength have anything to do with rising crime and falling arrest rates? Or are the recent, relatively modest resources provided to the police purely decorative and designed to get Back-Bench Tory MPs off Ministers’ backs? Are they supposed to stop the crisis in funding and police strength getting worse? If so, is that not a tacit admission of the huge damage that Government cuts have caused?

I have mentioned the overall cuts in central Government funding for the police. However, as was mentioned earlier, the head of the National Crime Agency says that an extra £2.7 billion is needed to tackle organised crime. As it happens, that is close to the amount that has been cut from the police budget since 2010. We also learn that there is now a cost over-run in the emergency services network of £3.1 billion pounds. Ministers have not yet come to the House to explain that and what they intend to do about it—and that at a time when billions have been cut from police budgets.

The effect is clear. In March 2018, there were 122,400 police officers in the police forces of England and Wales. That is a fall of 15% since March 2010, or a decline of 21,300 officers. All the new law, all the new orders, all the committees and all the reviews in the world cannot compensate for losing 21,300 officers. It is also relevant that the rate of those leaving the police force has almost doubled since 2010. Stress and overwork are taking their toll on under-resourced officers. There are now fewer police officers in England and Wales than there were in 1982. Of course, the under-resourcing of individual forces by this Government means that some forces are in an even worse position.