Frances O'Grady, TUC and public sector workers demand pay rise. Westminster, London. © Jess Hurd/TUC
After seven years of pay cuts, I’m not proud to be a prison officer anymore
I started working for the prison service in 2005. Back then I was proud of what I did.
I enjoyed the job and loved working with troubled teens. I had time to spend with the lads and could share my life experience. It felt like I was making a difference, helping them to turn their lives around. And as a single mother of four, I wanted to support my children through work.
Now it’s 2017 and I’m working longer hours and taking home less money than I did seven years ago. My rent and my shopping bill are going up but my wages aren’t because the government is holding down my pay.
I’m struggling to cope. Already I’ve cut back on luxuries so that I can make essential payments.
I’ve stopped taking a holiday each year, even though those breaks with my family meant the world to me. And I’ve had to tell my children they can’t continue with hobbies they love because we can’t afford it.
I often have to work long hours and extra shifts, sometimes because I need the money and sometimes because we’re understaffed. Last Tuesday, I went to work at 7.45am and didn’t get home until after two o’clock the following morning because of a prisoner incident.
When my children need glasses or extra lessons, I have to work overtime to pay for it.
The prison service is in crisis, and that’s no secret.
I’m attending more violent incidents than before and have suffered injuries at work. I kiss every member of my family before I leave the house, praying that I’ll get home safe at the end of the day.
Staff morale is at an all-time low. We’re working harder for less pay, in extremely dangerous conditions, but we still aren’t valued. You start to feel like a human punchbag rather than a prison officer. Too many of my experienced colleagues have left the prison service altogether, switching into better-paid, less violent jobs.
Some days I wish I had chosen a different career. I walk around the shopping centre and envy the people who work there. But my experience is in the prison service and I’m good at my job. I can’t walk away and leave other people to deal with the mess the service is in.
Being a prison officer is always going to be a difficult job with lots of risk. Still, I believe my work is important and I want to present a happy, professional face to prisoners. But the message we’re being given is that prison officers – who dedicate their lives to keeping people safe – are simply not worth a decent pay rise.
I’m not proud to be a prison officer anymore. I don’t feel valued and I’m afraid to go to work. Worst of all, I feel I’ve let my children down because I can’t give them the opportunities they deserve.
I’d like to see government ministers spend a day in my shoes. Maybe then they’d understand that unless they lift the pay cap, the problems in our prisons will keep getting worse.