“I like the moment when I break a man’s ego”
― Bobby Fischer
It’s often said that chess is a metaphor for life. There is an Italian proverb that says ‘At the end of the game, the king and the pawn go back in the same box’. Chess mirrors life; no matter how lofty or lowly our position as pieces in the game of life, no matter which side we were on, when we are done with the ‘game,’ we all go into the same box.
It seems in the police service there have always been self-aggrandising Panjandrums of senior rank (both uniform and civilian) who seem to be without conventional morality. They spend their lives in seeking to gain power over others through manipulation and bluster. The sometimes try to justify their inhumane treatment of their fellow beings under the guise of less than legitimate ‘personnel management’.
They certainly never for a minute think they will all end up in the same box, their energies dissipated as they return to their basic inert elements. Perhaps if they did think more of their inevitable end, they might be more careful in selecting the means by which they direct their path through life. Perhaps their decisions or lack of decisions wouldn’t have such profound and injurious consequences.
Rather than seeing an injured or ill police officer as a person, they see a problem; and they want that problem gone or forgotten without the hassle of finding a redeployment path. All the better if central government will pick up the tab or, the modern day equivalent, the individual is pushed to resign or is made a victim of a capability dismissal.
We at IODPA understand all too well what happens when people are cast aside, careers ended and lives destroyed. We are also aware of the difficulties currently serving and injured officers face in gaining their right to ill-health retirement.
Why has there been such a tempestuous imbalance with ill-heath retirements? Power games by cruel and harsh senior managers have always happened: instead of the pawn being thrown in the bin and replaced with a shiny new eager one, nowadays the pawn, held together with gaffer tape and super-glue, is forced to remain on the chequered square until they keel over and expire.
When you have been medically retired from the police service you start to see some things differently. Not only is there the obvious suffering with the injury but there is the self-doubt and the readjustment needed to rebuild your identity. Some people fail to make that transition and carry with them for the rest of their lives that they have somehow failed. The truth is that they have not failed, but that they have been failed by those in authority.
In our work-obsessed society, it’s hard to imagine anything worse than losing your career – amplified when that police career is your life. Yet people coming to terms with this also have to go through a series of legal and medical hoops to get any financial recompense. It’s time-consuming, stressful and undignified.
These struggles have progressively become worse over the years.
The 2011 police pay and conditions reviews conducted by Sir Tom Winsor identified that although the National Policing Plan for 2003-2006 required a reduction in the number of officers being retired through ill health grounds, the target previously set by the Government Actuaries Department was still at 6.5 retirements per 1000 officers.
However, Winsor’s research revealed that forces were only retiring officers on ill health grounds at a rate of 2.2 retirements per 1000 officers, significantly less than the recommended level.
It seems that all police services in the UK are playing fast and loose with peoples’ lives.
The Institute of Fiscal Studies published a report in 2014 that looked into the differences in ill-health retirement across forces and found a strong correlation to both area-specific stresses of policing and force-specific human resource policies.
You can view the report here . http://iodpa.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/wp1306.pdf
It’s a bit heavy on statistical modelling and forecasting but we’ve done the hard work and extracted the choice nuggets. The report shows there has been a Machiavellian approach in the administration of ill-health retirements and therefore injury awards.
The decisions of granting awards mirror the corruption regularly occurring in review processes. Human resource directors have jumped from one extreme to another: first using injury awards as a mechanism to solve their manpower problems at the expense of the injured officer (by immediately replacing them) and then more recently keeping injured officers in purgatory by not medically retiring the individual.
So since the National Policing plan, what changes occurred to Police Injury Benefit Regulations?
None. The only difference is how serving officers are nowadays on the capability dismissal roller-coaster and this, according to the IFS, can be squarely blamed on the Home Office enforced removal of central funding.
The IFS state,
However local authorities had considerable discretion, within some rather broad government guidelines, as to how they managed ill-health retirement. Hence, given this discretion, local authorities had an incentive within the financing mechanism to utilise ill-health retirement as a vehicle for removing lower quality officers (for example, those with lower fitness or general aptitude and commitment) from their workforce, wholly at the expense of national government
Previously serving officers were used as pawns in a horrific game of chess. The sense of self-esteem, loves, needs and welfare of the individuals concerned were all dispensed with on the grounds of efficiency. The IFS state in cold realism that medical retirement was just a ‘vehicle’ from removing disabled officers from the workforce.
Enforced medical retirement can easily break an already vulnerable person, damaged by illness or injury, for to hear that the decision was taken as it suited the bean-counters is a bitter pill to swallow.
The authors of the IFS report call it an ‘incentive‘. Greed was the motivation behind the brutish push the force gave you out the door that caused you to land face down in the dust whilst the door slammed shut – it wasn’t the physical or mental injury or God forbid both, that you have to suffer for the rest of your life, that led to your ill-health retirement. It was the avarice of your superiors.
The IFS report continues,
For police officers, the incentive to utilise ill-health retirement as a workforce management tool was exacerbated by the unique peculiarity of the police officer‟s terms of employment, under which a police officer cannot be made redundant before the first age at which he or she could normally retire (i.e. age 50).
It should be noted, however, that high rates of ill-health retirement we also observed in the late 1990s among other groups such as firefighters and ambulance crews even though such workforces had conventional employment contracts
Troubling that all this was non-regulatory. The police injury benefit and ill health retirement Regulations remained exactly the same. Just like the Home Office guidance 46/2004 which poisoned reviews of degree of disablement, central guidance enforced instructions upon already incompetent administrators of the police Regulations – instructions that ran contrary to the Regulations themselves.
The IFS is missing an important point in this excerpt,
This discrepancy between the incidence of perceived local benefits and national costs arising from discretionary retirement was noted by central government and in 2006, among a plethora of reforms to the police pension plan, a cost-sharing policy was introduced by which part of the cost of ill-health retirement would be borne by the local employer.
Central government, instead of changing the legislation, changed the way extant legislation was implemented. Of two hypothetical permanently injured police officers with the same disability, both facing ill-health retirement in 2006, one may have found themselves medically retired and the other denied the same route to recovery, just because they were separated by a matter of months pre and post the cost-sharing policy.
When an officer is permanently disabled from performing the full duties of a police constable then they are eligible to be medically retired. Of course there is some discretion available to the chief constable regarding retention but the IFS neglects to mention that this is mutual discretion – agreed by the officer themselves and the police force. In reality the option is rarely given to the injured officer. They are abandoned on long term sick leave with no occupational health support, no welfare checks and no return and reintegration policy.
Interestingly this comment by the IFS seems to mention that weak enforcement of medical claims contributes to the high level of the retirements in the 1990.
Police forces have also been characterised by high levels of early retirement on grounds of ill-health, especially in the late 1990s when medical retirements were averaging almost half of all retirement across police forces (HM Treasury, 2000).9 Ill-health retirement rates across forces varied from less than 20% of all retirements to over 75% in the same period; the high rates being seen as arising from a combination of generous enhancement provisions (ibid, Tables 1 and 2) and weak enforcement and monitoring of medical claims by individual police forces (Poole, 1997).
Of course when the force is using medical retirement as a ‘vehicle’ for removing officers who can’t be fully deployed the argument is that this isn’t ‘weak enforcement’ of the correct processes.
Implying a lack of energy is a careless use of words by IFS as it masks the actual powerful and keen enthusiasm the administrators of ill-health retirement go to in order to get exactly want they want. What really happened, and is happening, instead shows an institutional and deliberate reluctance to invest in welfare and a mindset that is all too willing to abandon those whose health is destroyed by doing the job.
The Regulations are quite specific in saying that disablement is an inability to perform all the duties of a police constable. The IFS agrees,
The criterion for ill-health retirement among police officers therefore stresses the officer‟s inability to perform “operational duties” – that is, limits on his or her potential full deployability such as in major public order situations and other physically and mentally stressful situations. This is a weaker criterion of “disability” than in most public social insurance settings where “disability” would be defined by reference to incapacity in any employment or to a specific set of disabling health conditions. In the context of police officers, this definition relating to “full deployability” links back to the supposed omnicompetence associated with the “Office of Constable”. Consequently, many police officers who were unable to fulfil specific duties obtained full ill-health retirement even though they were perfectly capable of engaging in restricted activities.
And then the IFS comes across the deliberate gamesmanship played by senior personnel directors who accelerate a life-changing decision upon an individual, purely based on the landmark of service and not on a balanced and unbiased view of the presented merits or demerits of the individual’s circumstances or condition.
There are distinct “spikes” in awards at those years of service at which the rate of enhancement increases, such as after 10 and 13 years‟ service. This suggests that financial incentives, as well as medical issues, played a major part in the process. Consequently, after the mid-2000s, efforts were made to implement standardised “best practice” medical assessment procedures across forces.
It is a sad fact that any serving officer who is facing enforced retirement due to long-term ill health or injury will be entered into a lottery. Some forces will handle the process fairly and with compassion. Other forces will see a problem with nothing more than a financial shape and will act accordingly. They will do whatever they think they can get away with to minimise or even avoid entirely, the cost of dispensing with a damaged officer.
IODPA, with its wealth of first-hand experience of the ways that corrupt, incompetent, uncaring or just plain ignorant HR managers and their unthinking, unchallenging underlings have visited gross harm on disabled former officers, now sees the picture changing.
The focus is shifting from being only former officers on injury pensions to include serving officers who have the misfortune to become long-term ill or are injured to the extent where they can no longer perform the ordinary range of duties required of a police officer.
Injury on duty pensioners have learned how to defend themselves from attacks made by biased ‘give me the money’ SMPs and ruthless HR managers. We are no longer the soft target we were disdainfully thought to be.
We share one vital circumstance, which is that we ceased to be subject to the often ill applied and misused whip of senior managers when we ceased being subjected to the threat of discipline proceedings.
We may be injured, but we are free.
Free to challenge and confront wherever we suffer maladministration. Free to prick the bubble of self-important buffoons who have no knowledge of the Regulations, yet who are ever ready to spout spurious justifications for their actions. Free to speak the truth without fear.
When finance directors see the outgoings paid out to cover injury awards, the entitlement of such defined in statute as being final once made, as a tempting object to this impecunious ruler of an impoverished police force and we are officiously notified that they believe their lack of money gives them enough reason to review of our degree of disablement now – when it suits them – we are free to remember exactly how history repeats itself given the force used financial incentives to discard once disability overcame us.
Serving officers are now seen as the soft target. How long before they too take a stand against the abuses which appearing in the ill health retirement process?