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Frontline Worker Pay Is Struggling To Keep Up With Rising Rental Prices

(Alamy, Flourish)

7 min read

New analysis from PoliticsHome has found that recently qualified nurses and police officers are seeing a significant chunk of their income eaten away by rented accommodation as the government faces pressure to increase public sector pay.

Taking ONS data for average rental prices in each local authority in England and comparing that with the salaries of each police force or NHS integrated care board has allowed the creation of detailed maps showing the average rent frontline workers face spending on rent each month.

Leading banks and housing groups advise that rental payments should not exceed 30 per cent of a person's annual salary, saying those paying above the threshold should consider moving or face being unable to save money each month.

Nursing unions and the Police Federation have urged ministers to urgently address pay for frontline workers, warning that surging rental prices were contributing to a recruitment and retention crisis.

Analysis of the data shows that finding accommodation below the threshold is largely impossible for significant chunks of the frontline workforce. This is especially true for police officers working in London and the south of England, despite earning higher salaries than their colleagues in other forces.

Many police officers are entirely priced out of living in the areas they cover

The data shows that officers in the Metropolitan, Surrey, Thames Valley, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire forces will on average be unable to find any single bedroom properties to rent in their regions without breaching the 30 per cent threshold. 

It means hundreds of thousands of officers will be left with significantly diminished pay packets once rent is accounted for, or facing moving long distances from their base stations.

The Metropolitan Police face the highest rent prices, which in some areas of London would average over 43 per cent of pay.

Despite Met officers receiving a London weighting, which pushes starting salaries to almost £34,000, new starters in greater London would still on average be unable to find any one bedroom properties in the entire area the force covers which would cost them less that 30 per cent of their salary. 

The situation for officers based in central London stations is worse, with rent pressures meaning they face long commutes to work unless they are willing to pay over 40 per cent of their gross annual wage in rent. 

In neighouring areas, Surrey officers will on average pay around 36.5 per cent of their gross salary on rent, while new starters in Hertfordshire will face rental costs equivalent to 35 per cent of their pay.

Hover over each local authority area to find the average salary cost to rent a one bedroom property for an officer working in that force. The data was produced by linking the starting pay for officers in each individual force divided by the average rent figures provided by the ONS for each local authority region.

Some nurses in London face spending more than half their salary on rent

For nurses, the situation in London is similar to that of police officers, with one bedroom rents in a majority of boroughs breaking the 40 per cent salary threshold, while several soared into the 50 to 60 per cent bracket.

Like police, nurses working in London receive additional pay on a sliding scale based on their proximity to the centre of the city, but the data shows this does little to reduce their rent burden.

Those working for the NHS in neighbouring regions face slightly reduced rental pressures, but would still breach the 30 per cent threshold across all of Surrey, Buckinghamshire and Essex.

This data shows the overall average rent for all local authorities within the force's operating area divided by the specific salary paid to newly recruited officers in the force.

Nurses and police across the country face unaffordable rents in cities

The data also shows both nurses and police officers working in dense urban areas would be unable to find a one bedroom property to rent without paying a significant portion of their salaries.

Nurses working in Bristol, Oxford and Cambridge would need to live long distances outside the cities or face paying at least 40 per cent of the wages on rent. That matches with police officers based in the same cities, with Cambridge rents representing 48 per cent of an officers gross salary if they chose to live in the city.

Other major cities, including York and Manchester also break the 30 per cent threshold for both professions, but are more affordable than other southern cities.

Hover over each local authority area to find the average salary cost to rent a one bedroom for a nurse working in that force. The data was produced by linking the starting pay for nurses in each individual force divided by the average rent figures provided by the ONS for each local authority region.


There is huge disparity across the country

With rental prices significantly lower in areas in the north of England, police officers for forces in those regions face the least pressure to afford rents, despite some starting on salaries of just over £20,000.

Our analysis shows three forces spend less than 20 per cent of their income on rent, well below the 30 per cent affordability threshold, with Durham and Humberside sitting jointly as the lowest on just 17.5 per cent.

While nurses in the north pay significantly less as a portion of their salary than nurses in London and its neighbouring areas, the flat salary offered to nurses across the rest of the country leads to lower levels of regional disparity as you move away from the most expensive areas.

Outside of London and the South, nurses and officers face different pressures from one another

The data also shows disparity among nurses and police living in other cities, where pay rates between the two groups differ.

While a police officer in Newcastle would breach the threshold for rent, nurses working in the region would fall just short at 26 per cent. The same is true for Leeds where a 4 per cent variation again pushes police officers above the threshold, while nurses fall just short.

Only certain areas of the country are affordable for both police and nurses

The analysis shows that as well as in Durham and Humberside, police officers in Lincolnshire and Lancashire are likely to find housing affordable, with no local authorities in those force areas breaching the 30 per cent threshold.

The overall picture for nurses is brighter where salaries vary little outside of London. It means that much of the midlands is affordable for nurses in their early career, with Nottingham, Derbyshire, Staffordshire, Lincolnshire and Merseyside all among the NHS areas with no rental prices exceeding the 30 per cent threshold.

Unions say more money is needed for nurses and police to work where they live

The analysis highlights the concerns about pay raised by a number of public sector unions as they press ahead with sustained strike action this winter.

Patricia Marquis, England director at the Royal College of Nursing, told PoliticsHome it was clear from the figures that nurses across the country cannot afford to work where they live.

"This is yet even more evidence of the need for a fair pay rise for nursing staff. In large parts of the country nurses simply cannot afford to live in the communities they work in," she said.

"Nurses are leaving the profession in record numbers and patient care is at risk. Ministers must heed the warning, cut the rhetoric, and come to the table for meaningful talks about pay."

The recent annual survey from the Police Federation found one-fifth of all officers were considering quitting within the next two years, with 95 per cent citing low pay as a contributing factor.

"How can we expect to deliver a first class service to protect the public when our officers are struggling to look after themselves?," a spokesperson for the Federation said in response to PoliticsHome's analysis. 

"To rebuild the broken thin blue line, police officers need a pay award that acknowledges the cost-of-living crisis, their unique responsibilities and the restrictions imposed on their industrial rights.

"Otherwise, the profession will remain at risk and the disillusionment of our colleagues will deepen, the Government must act."

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