In 2020 (prior to the Covid-19 pandemic), the POA commissioned a survey of members to examine their work-related wellbeing.

This survey was undertaken by Dr Gail Kinman the visiting Professor of Occupational Health Psychology at Birkbeck University of London and Dr Andrew Clements, a lecturer in Occupational Health Psychology at Coventry University.

The survey clearly shows that the stresses and strains of working in the Criminal Justice System have a detrimental effect on members’ health, wellbeing, and safety.

The POA have described the finding of the survey as shocking, highlighting the need for an urgent review. A copy of the survey will be supplied to each member of the Houses of Parliament during week commencing 17th January 2021.  A copy of the survey will be available on the new POA Website ( also from 17th January 2021.

Key findings include.

  • The findings of the 2020 survey of POA members clearly show that the employing bodies in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland and the NHS and Immigration Services are not meeting the minimum standards recommended by the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) for the management of employees’ work-related wellbeing 
  • Although some areas have improved slightly since the 2014 survey, POA members continue to report lower wellbeing than average for all the HSE’s work stressor categories.
  • Levels of wellbeing for the HSE work stressor categories are lower than those found in many other emergency and safety-critical services, such as the police and the Fire and Rescue Service.
  • Members who report poorer wellbeing in relation to the HSE work stressor categories tend to be at greater risk of mental health problems and burnout and have less job satisfaction, more work-life conflict and stronger leaving intentions.
  • The incidence of bullying and harassment within the employing bodies continues to be unacceptably high. Only around one-third of POA members (34%) report having never been subjected to harassment at work, and only 41% have never experienced bullying at work.
  • Almost half (48%) of POA members rate the quality of their on-the-job training as poor or very poor; only 12% find it to be very good or excellent. More than five out of ten consider their opportunities for promotion as poor or very poor.
  • Most respondents are concerned about their safety at work and report feeling less secure than they did a year ago. Many also feel the need to be “hyper-vigilant” for potential danger during their shift. Of particular concern is that 70% of the sample believe that poor staffing levels compromise the personal safety and security of staff and prisoners.
  • In line with recent statistics, POA members continue to experience intimidation and violence from prisoners on a regular basis. Almost two-thirds of the sample report being subjected to verbal abuse from prisoners either often or regularly. Around half receive verbal threats and experience intimidation from prisoners either often or regularly.
  • The proportion of POA members who report being subjected to assault from prisoners has increased since 2014, with more than one in five having this experience at least once a month. More than half of these attacks are described by respondents as moderate or serious.
  • Experiences of violence and intimidation, feeling unsafe and needing to remain vigilant at work are major risk factors for mental health problems and burnout among members. They are also strongly linked to impaired sleep, poor recovery and leaving intentions.
  • The high level of mental health problems reported by POA members in the 2014 survey has not abated and continues to be poorer than many other occupational groups.
  • The extent of stress-related disorders among POA members also continues to be high, with more than one-third being diagnosed by their GP since they started working for the employing bodies.
  • “Presenteeism” was highlighted as a major concern in the 2014 survey, but more than nine out of ten respondents continue to feel pressure to work while sick at least sometimes, with 43% always doing so. The implications of presenteeism for the wellbeing and safety of staff and prisoners are potentially serious.
  • The work-life balance of POA members remains poor. Most struggle to find enough time to spend with family and friends and have difficulty “switching off” from the worries and concerns of their job. This has a negative impact on members’ personal life and their ability to recover from work demands, and can potentially impair their health, job satisfaction and performance.
  • Many POA members gain a strong sense of personal accomplishment from the job and consider they have a positive influence on prisoners’ lives.
  • The level of job satisfaction among POA members has increased slightly since 2014 but extrinsic aspects of work, such as promotion opportunities and job security, are generally considered the least satisfying, but pay and the way the organisation is managed have the lowest ratings overall.
  • Retention of staff is a continuing problem in the employing bodies. Nearly half reported that they are seriously considering leaving their job soon.
  • Most POA members who responded to the 2014 survey were unhappy about being expected to work over the age of 60, and these concerns have grown. The proportion of respondents who believe that working for longer will adversely affect their ability to do their job has increased.

Steve Gillan, the General Secretary of the POA stated;

“This report is damning. There is overwhelming evidence for an urgent review of members’ working conditions and staffing levels as well as the pension age. The National Executive will be bringing this survey to employers’ attention as well as Government and members of all of the main parties in the House of Commons and House of Lords”.

Mark Fairhurst, the National Chairman of the POA stated;

“Once again, an independent survey has informed this National Executive what we were already aware of - that our members work in the most violent and stressful workplace in Western Europe and our members are not appreciated by employers. Over the last 10 years, POA members have suffered real time pay cuts and staffing shortages which has meant 10 years of pain and suffering.

As part of the 2020 Spending Review Rishi Sunak has stated that those working in the Criminal Justice Sector will receive no pay award in 2021. This National Executive will do all in its power to ensure that all POA members are recompensed fairly for the dangerous and stressful job that they do on behalf of society”.




For further information, contact:

POA Press Office                                                  020 8803 0255 Option 7

Representing over 30,000 Prison, Correctional and Secure Psychiatric Workers, the POA is the largest UK Union in this sector, able to trace its roots back more than 100 years.