Our prison officers have done a truly remarkable job during the pandemic, and through their decisive actions and rapid contact tracing, literally hundreds if not thousands of prisoners’ lives have been saved. Although there are no plans to revisit the retirement age, we are pursuing a series of initiatives to boost morale, safety and retention, and ensure that prisons are as secure and rehabilitative as possible.
The Government have previously stated that because of the higher potential for serious injury and fatality among firefighters and police, they do not consider prison officers deserving of the same pension age protections and the right to retire at 60. With serious violence against staff still plaguing our prisons, does the Minister accept that the message received by prison officers is that they will have to wait until one of their own is killed in the line of duty before their safety concerns are taken seriously?
The hon. Lady makes an important point. Mercifully, during the pandemic violence has come down in prisons, which we welcome. It is also important not to make false comparisons. For example, employee contributions for police officers are at 12%, and 14% for fire officers, and 5.45% for prison officers. Of course we keep such matters under review. We made a generous offer in 2017 to bring forward the retirement date when the taxpayer would pay the entirety of employee contributions, but I regret that that was rejected by the POA.
Our prison officers do fantastic work keeping prisons and communities safe, and they have gone above and beyond throughout the pandemic. However, the Ministry of Justice’s own figures show that more than 86,000 years of prison officer experience has been lost since 2010. These key workers are moving on to better-paid work that does not involve abuse and assaults on a daily basis. Why, then, did the Government reject the pay review body’s recommendation of a £3,000 uplift for band 3 prison officers? Should we not be giving these key workers a pay rise to recognise their vital work in keeping our country safe?
Where the hon. Lady is absolutely right is that retention matters, because having more experience in a prison leads it to be safer and more rehabilitative. However, it is disappointing that she did not note that last year there was a minimum increase in pay of 2.5%, and in fact some officers received up to 7.5%. That was much higher than wage inflation in the economy. We will continue to do everything possible to increase retention, including, by the way, among new officers, many of whom I met over the course of the summer, who would really benefit from increased mentoring on wings to improve morale and retention. We are absolutely committed to that very important agenda.