‘I’ve done nothing but serve the public’: Detective considering leaving policing because she ‘can’t afford to live’ on pay

Detective who investigates child abuse cases says she would be better off working part-time in card shop

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Editor
Tuesday 17 May 2022 23:36
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Priti Patel grilled by police officers over pay

A detective who has served in the police for 23 years has told how she has been forced to use food banks and borrow from family to cover her living costs.

DC Vicky Knight confronted the home secretary at a policing conference in Manchester on Tuesday, asking if she could live on the £1,200 a month taken home by probationary officers.

The 47-year-old said that she resorted to borrowing £40 from her mother last weekend to cover petrol and her son’s school lunch.

“We just want to be heard,” she told Ms Patel. “We are desperately struggling to do the job we love and to make ends meet at home.”

Her comments came during a heated question and answer session at the Police Federation’s annual conference, where delegates demanded pay increases to stop experienced officers leaving their posts and resorting to desperate measures.

Speaking to journalists after the session, DC Knight said she wanted to demonstrate the struggles experienced by officers in “real terms” to Ms Patel.

“Some of the politicians are so far removed from the reality of it, and live in their big houses in nice areas with the kids in public schools,” she added. “I’ve never known it as bad as this and I’m not alone in my situation.”

DC Knight is a detective working in child protection and cases involving vulnerable adults in North Wales Police, and was formerly in the Navy.

She said her £43,000 annual salary translates to £2,300 take-home pay a month because of tax, national insurance, pensions payments and other contributions. For probationary police officers, the figure is £1,200.

The detective told journalists that a friend, who is an accountant, calculated that if she left policing and switched to a part-time job in a card shop, the benefits she could access would make her better off overall.

“I joined the Navy when I was 17 and I’ve done nothing but serve the public for my whole working life,” she added.

“I’m at a point where I’m going backwards, I’m potentially going to lose my house and move back in with my parents.”

DC Knight said she had been unable to go for a promotion to the rank of sergeant because she is a single mother, and the night shifts required would mean she could not look after her 13-year-old son in the evenings.

The officer described having to deny her teenage son new clothes and activities, and using an app to get discarded food from chain cafes.

“On pay day we go to Sainsbury’s,” she added. “At the end of the month, sometimes it’s a breakfast sandwich [from the app] for tea at night.”

DC Knight said she had used a food bank in the past, and would have to more regularly if not for family and friends.

Because of the cost of petrol, she is currently considering cycling 22 miles in each direction to work at least three days a week.

“I love my job and I don’t want to leave it but if push comes to shove and I can’t afford to live I’m going to have to,” the officer said. “If it wasn’t for the pension I’d be gone.”

The detective said that if she leaves now, she will not receive her pension until she is 68, but if she stays on she could access it at the age of 49 or 55.

She raised concerns that the financial struggles being faced by officers like her would cause an exodus of experienced police and specialists, undermining the government’s attempt to replace 20,000 officers lost during years of austerity.

DC Knight said the situation was also raising the risk of corruption, warning: “It’s going to be too easy for people to take backhanders when they’re desperate.”

Steve Hartshorn, head of the Police Federation, echoed her concerns and called for the government to follow the recommendations of an official review body and increase pay.

“Something has to give and very sadly we’re going to lose a lot of very experienced officers to other industries,” he told journalists.

“I hear lots of anecdotal stories day in, day out about my colleagues going to food banks and not being able to make ends meet. It’s distressing because police officers, especially at that level of service, should be comfortable in their pay and their pensions.

“They deserve proper pay to reflect the jobs they do and the risks they take.”

In her speech to the Police Federation’s annual conference, the home secretary urged it to re-join the official Police Remuneration Review Body process, after withdrawing when the government rejected its recommendations and imposed a pay freeze last year.

Ms Patel said police officers have a lower pension age than other public servants, and that she would “champion their cause” in Whitehall.

When asked by an officer whether she would “put your money where your mouth is” on the issue of pay, Ms Patel replied: “I completely hear what you say and Steve and I need to have this conversation. It’s about coming together on that pay debate.”

Speaking to journalists after the session, the home secretary said she was aware of the risks of losing experienced police officers, adding: “We want to retain them. There are more things we need to do and chiefs need to do as well.”

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