Prison staff dismiss 'demoralising' pay rise

Nicola Slawson
The pay boost only applies to 31 prisons, mainly in London and south-east England. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

A long-trailed pay rise for prison officers across the country has been dismissed as “demotivating and demoralising” by workers amid reports just 5% of staff could benefit from the hike.

The Prison Officers’ Association, which represents the more than 30,000 staff working in public-sector prisons, said the government has used the “soundbite” of an immediate pay boost to distract from deeper issues affecting the safety of officers and inmates.

Glyn Travis, assistant general secretary of the POA, said he believed the justice secretary, Liz Truss, had been misled about the state of the prison service and that no detailed assessment had been completed before the pay rise was announced.

The MoJ announced an instant pay boost for “thousands” of staff in February, following reports of increasing violence against prison officers and the threat of strike action across England.

But according to the BBC, an internal memo reveals that the actual number immediately benefiting are 1,617 prison officers out of more than 30,742 staff – just 5.3% of the workforce.

The document reportedly reveals that the new allowances of between £3,000 and £5,000 replace existing payments of between £2,500 and £4,000, meaning some officers will have just £1,000 extra.

The MoJ is understood to be disputing the BBC’s report. When the raise was announced, the MOJ’s press release did state in the editor’s notes the new award was to replace existing pay increments for staff at 31 of the most difficult-to-recruit prisons. It also said the pay increase was only for band 3 officers at the eligible prisons.

A spokesperson for the MoJ said: “We have been clear we are increasing pay at 31 targeted prisons. Our approach will result in new recruits receiving higher starting salaries, with a pay boost of up to £5,000 for new and some existing staff in the most difficult to recruit prisons. This was clearly set out in our announcement.”

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today show, Travis said: “We do not want to see soundbites from the government to say they are going to increase pay in certain establishments and that they have done a detailed assessment.

“We welcome additional money to improve recruitment and retention but not what this system has brought in, under the government. We firmly believe the secretary of state for justice has been misled because we don’t believe there was a detailed assessment.”

The pay boost only applies to 31 prisons, mainly in London and south-east England, including Bedford, Belmarsh, Brixton, Chelmsford, Feltham, Pentonville, Wandsworth, Whitemoor and Wormwood Scrubs.

Travis said: “Liz Truss just talks about motivation and rewarding staff but when you’ve got staff at Belmarsh or Feltham, which is a mirror of another establishment in the north, getting £5,000 more, that’s demotivating and demoralising for those who have not had pay rises.”

Travis said there needed to be a long hard look at the state of the prisons service as a whole across England and Wales. “Whether you increase salary or not, it’s about safety, decency and security. Currently prisons are in such a state that we’re not seeing that.

“What we’re calling for is an overarching policy that rewards and recognises the work of staff and we need to ensure staff aren’t on a revolving door of coming in and leaving after a year. The secretary of justice needs to be fully briefed on what the real problems are. We want value and fairness across all our prisons.”

Tory MP Andrew Selous, who was prisons minister from 2014 until 2016, said of the pay rise briefing note: “I wonder if it’s slightly a case of what people were assuming was going to be happening. In some areas of England and Wales, there are actually waiting lists of people waiting to join. When money is tight, it does make sense to focus that money on the prisons that are having difficulty recruiting people.”

Selous said a proper assessment had taken place. “The Ministry of Justice has done a very careful analysis of the labour market conditions around all prisons in England and Wales,” he said. “We know we have a number of prisons in London and the south-east, particularly, where it is difficult to get prison officers because there are other jobs on better rates of pay, often in the public sector, I may say. So this money is targeted to make sure we can get the much valued prison officers that we need in the prisons, which are under pressure.”

Announcing the extra cash in February, Truss said prison officers did “a challenging and demanding job day in and day out. I want frontline staff to know that their work, experience and loyal service is valued. We also want to attract the best new talent into the service, ensuring we recruit and retain the leaders of the future.”

But the POA dismissed the initiative at the time, saying: “The latest attempt at placing a plaster over a gaping wound has been announced.”