Police officer numbers fact check: Sunak fills hole created by Tory party by recruiting 20,000 new officers

The Conservatives cut thousands of police officers after coming to power in 2010. The Conservatives cut thousands of police officers after coming to power in 2010.
The Conservatives cut thousands of police officers after coming to power in 2010. | NationalWorld
Thousands of new police officers have been recruited since 2019 to join forces across England and Wales but official figures show the new recruits are effectively replacing officers lost under the Conservative government.

The UK government announced today that it had hit its target to recruit 20,000 new police officers – but these so-called “additional” officers simply replaced those lost under the Conservatives, analysis by NationalWorld shows.

The claim

Today (26 April) the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced that his government had achieved its 2019 pledge of recruiting 20,000 new officers by March 2023.

Our verdict

The prime minister's claim is misleading. Home Office figures out today show a provisional headcount of 149,572 police officers in England and Wales as of 31 March 2023, of which 20,951 were new officers recruited as part of the Police Uplift Programme. But the total headcount is only 847 greater than the number the Tories inherited when they first came to office in 2010, suggesting that the Conservative government has only filled a gap it itself created.

The Police Federation of England and Wales has also criticised today’s announcement, saying the figures “do not stand up to scrutiny” and described it as a “smokescreen”.

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Official figures show the Conservative government slashed police officer numbers during its first eight years in office (the first five of which it was in coalition with the Liberal Democrats), with the number plummeting by 13.9% between 2010 and 2018, when it hit its lowest point. The Tories started their time in office with 148,725 police officers in England and Wales in 2010 but this had dropped by more than 20,000 by 2018, falling to 127,995 officers. The figures are based on a headcount of all employees, regardless of hours worked.

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In 2019 when the Conservatives pledged to recruit 20,000 new officers by March 2023, there were around 128,700 officers across England and Wales.

The figures out today also show a significant rise in recruitment in the last three months. According to the Home Office statistics, the Police Uplift Programme there was a net increase of 4,214 uplift officers in the three months to March 2023, compared with December 2022. There have been suggestions that some forces have fast-tracked new officers to ensure they are in post by the March deadline.

The Home Office publishes additional data on police workforce which also includes data on full time equivalent (FTE) officers. These figures show the collective number of full time employees when those on part time hours are totalled. The government says there is a “relatively small difference” between the headcount and FTE figures. It said the most recent workforce figures show (as at 30 September 2022), the police officer headcount was 144,345 while FTE was 142,145 (a 1.5% difference).

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‘Less officers on the streets than a decade ago’

Steve Hartshorn, national chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales which represents more than 139,000 rank-and-file officers, said: “The 20,000 new police officers joining the service in England and Wales has been desperately needed, however the Government’s claim of the recruitment drive resulting in a stronger, healthily staffed service is misleading and misplaced.

“Effectively, the Government has backfilled the more than 21,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) officers cut by the Government in 2010.”

“The reality is, considering population growth of more than four million since 2010, even with an ‘uplift’ of 20,000 officers, we will have less officers on the streets than we had a decade ago.”

In a statement made to the Commons today about the recruitment programme, Home Office minister Chris Philp said it was a “significant day” for policing.

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“We said we would recruit an extra 20,000 officers since 2019 and we have. We have, in fact, recruited an extra 20,951 additional officers. We now have a record number of officers – 149,572 officers across England and Wales, that is 3,542 more than the previous peak.”

He added: “Not everyone, of course, will be as happy as we are today. Criminals must be cursing their luck and so they should because these extra police officers are coming after them.”