General Secretary

December 2017 | 01.12.2017




At the time of the introduction of Fair and Sustainable (F&S) there were almost 32,000 Prison Officer and Operational Support Grades employed by Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS). The policy was intended to harness innovation and to be a means to deliver better outcomes and reduce reoffending.

Once HMPPS senior management had introduced F&S, they accelerated the programme of the Voluntary Early Departure Scheme (VEDS) as part of their plan to reduce staff numbers under the Government’s austerity plan. Under this scheme, HMPPS oversaw the departure of almost 3,200 uniformed frontline staff.

The loss of these staff alongside the departure of a further:

  • 4,968 through resignation;
  • 3,136 through retirement;
  • 1,054 medical retirements; and
  • 2,019 dismissals for unsatisfactory attendance/medical inefficiency, lea d to the fall in uniformed staff numbers.

In total, HMPPS published data shows that between March 2011 and March 2017, almost 16,274 frontline staff had left the Prison Service.

By the end of June 2017, the number of staff in these front-line grades had fallen to just over 23,200. Despite these severe cuts in staff numbers, the prison population has remained significantly above Government expectations. The POA believe the loss of so many experienced staff through this scheme has been a central factor in causing the crisis which the Prison Service is now experiencing.

Over the same period, only 9,633 new staff have been recruited, 6,134 Band 3-5 Officer grades and 3,499 Band 2 Operational Support Grades.

It should also be remembered where the Service was in terms of the staff in post and the staff it required when the new recruitment drive began. In October 2016, the Service was short of 800 Band 3-5 Officers and 591 Band 2 Operational Support Grades. This position had worsened by March 2017 as the Service then required 923 Band 3-5 Officers and 674 Band 2 Operational Support Grades to reach the Benchmark staffing levels it had set itself.

The commitments made by Government for additional staff are welcome but we now need to see the delivery of those commitments to assist the Prison Service which this Government has driven into crisis.

  • POA members need to see the additional staff they have been promised now.
  • They need to see the promised improvements in leadership.
  • They need to feel they are supported and the dangerous and difficult job they do on behalf of society is fully and properly recognised by those at the top and those in Government.

The time for welcome words and platitudes from those in authority and Government are over. What is needed most of all, is action.

Prison violence

The POA have been highlighting the increasingly dangerous working environment in which prison staff have to work. The POA is the largest Trade Union in the Criminal Justice Sector and we are firmly of the view that those at the most senior level of Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service, have overseen, controlled and directed the Service into the worst crisis seen in many years. It is these officials which have briefed and led successive Secretaries of State and Ministers on what is achievable and how to make it deliverable.

Earlier this year, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons published his second annual report, in it he once again highlighted the increasing levels of violence and impoverished conditions and he claimed many inmates are trapped for more than 22 hours a day in what he called squalid, dirty and disgraceful cells. He reported the percentage of male prisons judged to be ‘good’ or ‘reasonably good’ fell from 78 percent in 2015 to 49 percent last year.


Assaults in our prisons continue to rise exponentially, the latest data shows clearly how the situation has worsened.

The current position is that there are now 74.5 assaults in our prisons every day. This is in itself a damning indictment on Government policy driven by the HMPPS Board. To witness an increase of over 85 percent since June 2010 alone indicates the current administration has to accept a large proportion of any blame as this lies squarely at their feet.

It is no secret the prison population is becoming more dangerous and violent. Since 2013 the number of serious assaults provide clear, unambiguous confirmation of this fact. There are now 10 serious assaults a day and since June 2010 they have increased by 161 percent.

No worker should go to work to be assaulted; this includes the brave men and women who work in our prisons and secure hospitals, unfortunately too many of our members now go to work with the expectation that they will be assaulted. At present 20 staff are assaulted every day in our prisons.

Government and our employer have a duty of care to our members and they must reverse the 149 percent increase in staff assaults, which they have overseen since June 2010.

Of the 7,159 assaults shown in the 12 months to March 2017, less than 2,000 were referred to the Police. All too often, cases receive only a minimal sentence or the CPS decides not to proceed with them.

The POA demand our members should be protected and Government should ensure all assaults are referred to the Police and the Crown Prosecution Service, prosecute every prisoner/patient who assaults a member of staff and to treat it as a serious crime. We also call for the most stringent sentences to be handed down by the Courts.

As with serious assaults generally, assaults on staff in the 12 months to June 2017 have increased at completely unacceptable levels, up 175 percent since June 2010. Though the words of condemnation written for Ministers by HMPPS appear to show a recognition and an intent to help address the situation, unfortunately, the delivery of any commitments fall short of addressing the increases in violence shown in the published data.

Pay in the modern Prison Service

Since the introduction of F&S, all new frontline staff have been employed on new pay scales that have been increased at the top end by between 5.3 percent and six percent for Band 3 Officers and 6.4 percent to 7.5 percent for Band 2 OSGs.

For the majority of staff in the closed pay grades, the financial implications of transferring into the new F&S pay and conditions would be a significant pay cut.

Those members are the longest serving frontline staff, with the greatest levels of experience and knowledge within HMPPS. These staff have seen pay increases amounting to a sum total of just one percent since the introduction of F&S. This year’s Prison Service Pay Review Body (PSPRB) recommended a £400 increase to the maximum of the pay scales for each of these grades.

It remains the case that well over 50 percent of operational staff remain in the closed grades predominantly due to far lower rates of pay given to newer F&S staff.

It is noticeable that over 33.4 percent of officers leaving the Service had not achieved four years of service. In the 12 months to March 2017, of the 1,770 leavers from the Band 3 Officer Grade over 50 percent (890) resigned, which is a historically high level. For Band 2 Operational Support Grades there were 294 resignations (57 percent) of the 514 leavers from this grade.

What is clear to the POA and from the data published by Her Majesty’s’ Prison and Probation Service is the crisis is one of underfunding, poor planning and poor leadership.

At the heart of the recruitment and retention difficulties is the size and appeal of the remuneration package on offer to new staff. Historically, the Prison Service was never the highest paying public service but due to the increasingly dangerous nature of the environment that potential staff are expected to work in, the stagnation of the pay package has had a significant effect on the ability of the Service to attract and retain staff.

Since 2010, under the Government’s policy of austerity, the pay given to uniformed prison staff has seen their standards of living steadily fall year after year. Had rates of pay kept pace with the Consumer Price Index (CPI), staff at the top of the old closed pay scales would have seen increases as shown in the table below:

This table shows the lowest paid uniformed staff would have been £1,900 better off than they are following this year’s PSPRB. So called, ‘pay cap busting recommendations’ and Principal Officers would have been receiving over £4,700 more pay, if they were to have seen their living standards maintained against the CPI measurement. Against the Retail Price Index (RPI) measurement of inflation these figures would have been much higher.

It has to be noted that since the introduction of the new F&S, rates of pay in the majority of cases has remained well below that of the old closed grades. The POA believe this is one of the main reasons for the increases in staff turnover for newer staff and one of the driving factors behind the inability of NOMS/ HMPPS to recruit staff in sufficient numbers in large parts of the country. Therefore, we call upon Government to increase the pay for all uniformed grades to the table below as a starting point.

Put in its simplest terms, the pay on offer for the work that is expected is just not good enough.


The general public fully recognise the courageous work of our armed forces, and police, along with our fi re and rescue services. Unfortunately, the work of prison staff, due to its very nature, is hidden from sight from the vast majority and therefore does not receive the same level of recognition and understanding.

The Justice Select Committee in its report on the Role of a Prison Officer, stated “prison officers deal with some of the most dangerous, disruptive and dysfunctional people in society.” The Committee recognised the type of work prison staff undertake, but it remains difficult for anyone outside of the profession to fully appreciate the stresses and strains working in this environment year after year takes on an individual.

Increasingly, frontline prison staff are forced into a position where their aspirations for retirement will become a fantasy and out of reach as they will either die in service or forced out of their career due to ill health and capability. The number of staff leaving the Prison Service due to medical inefficiency reasons has increased by almost 140 percent.

More and more employees now view working for Her Majesty’s Prison Service as a job and not a career. This is a marked contrast to the prestige with which many members of staff have viewed the Service in the past.

As already highlighted in this briefing, violence is on the increase in our prisons, at present, more than 20 prison staff are assaulted every day on average. The severity of the attacks and nature of injuries are resulting in longer periods of sick absence and this will only increase with the link to Normal Pension Age (NPA) and State Pension Age (SPA) and the nature of the job prison staff do on behalf of society.

The savings Government expected to make from increasing the pension age of frontline uniformed staff is continually negated through the increase in payments for:

  • temporary injury benefit award;
  • medical inefficiency payments; and
  • medical retirement along with permanent injury benefit award.

These increased levels of payments will be funded from the PCSPS and could well prove to have a detrimental effect on the scheme, due to the cost cap being exceeded as more money will be needed to pay medical and injury benefit awards, leaving the tax payer to make up any deficit within the scheme.

While it is accepted that people in society are generally living longer, it cannot be said that operational frontline prison staff will continue to be fi t enough and able enough to continue to perform the full range of duties, into their old age.

The ongoing ability of staff undertaking and passing the five elements of the Prison Service fi tness test, in addition to the annual mandatory control and restraint training as they move into their late 60s is extremely questionable.

All sections of the test have to be passed. If one section is failed the whole test is failed. In any re-test the whole of the test (five sections) has to be retaken and passed, not just the one that was failed.

Government has still not provided any evidence to support their policy position for frontline prison staff to effectively work in an operational environment into their late 60s.

The POA have to question Government as to how many people over the age of 55 would pass the stringent fitness test expected of a frontline member of the Prison Service. We demand Government to urgently revisit the question of the retirement age of frontline prison staff.


The prison system continues to teeter on the brink of collapse. The excessive cuts made to staffing have left prisoner to staff ratios at dangerous levels. Prisons have always operated with less staff than offenders but the ratios have to be sufficient to maintain safety and security.

  • The health and safety of prison staff and offenders alike is put at risk daily due to the budgetary constraints put on the Ministry of Justice and Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service.
  • Uniformed frontline staff within the Service have suffered unduly from the austerity policy of Government; and
  • The imposition of a Pay Review Body that is not fi t-for-propose as a compensatory mechanism for the loss of Trade Unions Rights, and the undue influence HM Treasury has over its operation.
  • The majority of staff working in HMPPS have had no pay increase in over seven years, until the limited increases recommended this year. It is yet another issue which has demoralised a committed and dedicated workforce.
  • The changes which have been imposed on staff with regards to their pensions, and the expectation of many of having to work in one of the most dangerous and difficult professions in the country until the age of 68 is further evidence that the Prison Service is the forgotten public service.

Society cannot expect the men and women of the Prison Service to continue to care for, control and protect the most dangerous, violent and damaged people in the way that Government currently expects them to. This issue has to be revisited if the frontline uniformed staff of Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service are to be given any level of dignity in their retirement.

Though commitments have been given, it is the delivery of those commitments which needs to be seen by those working on the frontline of our prisons and by the offenders they are tasked with caring for.

There is no magic wand which will deliver results tomorrow, but how long must staff have to wait in order to see a light at the end of what has been a very long dark tunnel?