Soaring probation workloads put the public at risk, warn unions

Probation can and must do better with the right levels of investment.

Soaring workloads in the probation service are putting the public at risk, unions warn today (Monday). 

Napo, UNISON and GMB, which represent staff working in the probation service in England and Wales, say crippling workloads will lead to a catastrophic breakdown of the service if the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) does not intervene.  

Probation workers are responsible for monitoring people on probation in the community. 

But a recent restructure and staff shortages are making it extremely difficult to keep tabs on some of the UK’s most dangerous individuals, say the unions.

Employees are buckling under the pressure and many workers are quitting, leaving newly qualified and less experienced staff to take the reins.   

Unions fear overstretched staff are being scapegoated for the effects of an under-resourced service, prompting yet more staff to seek employment elsewhere.  

Calls for immediate government intervention have gone unheeded, say unions. This has led to the launch of today’s campaign aimed at reducing workload. 

The three unions are hopeful that the campaign, Operation Protect, will raise wider awareness of the issue and the threat posed to the public.

Napo general secretary Ian Lawrence said: “It would be all too easy for this much-needed campaign to be seen as a negative move from the probation unionsBut among the key objectives is a call to senior leaders in probation and His Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) to play their part by reaching an agreed workload reduction and management strategy with unions. This will allow the service to start to recover from the incessant and damaging changes it has gone through for more than a decade. 

“Probation can and must do better with the right levels of investment, but our members need to see that this government is taking their concerns seriously.” 

UNISON national officer for police and justice Ben Priestley said: “Probation staff are determined to keep the public safe and rehabilitate those on probation. But overwhelming workloads and staffing shortages have created a dangerous situation, which the government must address.” 

GMB national officer George Georgiou said: “The probation service has seen 10 years of underfunding and increasing workloads for all its staff. This campaign seeks to address the working conditions for our members who are being made unwell through high workloads. It will also protect staff, the communities they serve and their profession.” 

The joint union workloads campaign is being launched later today (Monday) at the MoJ. 

Notes to editors:
-The joint unions’ workloads campaign seeks to: 

  • work with ministers, HMPPS, His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation, Probation Institute, sentencers and statutory partners to agree a strategic probation workload reduction programme
  • agree a safe workloads and case allocation system
  • ensure that all staff have high-quality supervision, when and how they need it, to manage their workloads effectively 
  • give probation staff the confidence, tools and support to challenge excessive workloads 
  • reach an employee care agreement with the Probation Service to protect the health, safety and wellbeing of probation staff.

– In June 2014, 35 probation trusts were abolished, and probation work was divided between two separate organisations. The National Probation Service (NPS) was directed to manage people on probation posing a high risk of serious harm to others and those subject to multi-agency public protection arrangements (MAPPA). The NPS also had responsibility for probation services to the courts, including writing pre-sentence reports, and for victim contact work. The rest of the probation service was allocated to 21 newly created community rehabilitation companies in 2014 (CRCs). In February 2015, the CRCs were sold to private companies. 

-After a long campaign by Napo, UNISON and GMB the service was eventually re-unified into public ownership in June 2021.

Media contacts:  
Ian Lawrence, Napo M: 07788 118005 E:  
UNISON M: 07778 158175 E:   
GMB M: 07813 542050 E: