OVERWORKED officers took thousands of days off sick last year prompting the chairman of Cumbria's police union to announce that force morale is at an all time low.

A Freedom of Information (FOI) request has revealed that last year (2016/17) 5,621 days were lost due to sick days taken by front line and police community support officers.

Martin Plummer, chair of Cumbria Police Federation, said the figures are a result of ever-increasing workloads and decreasing staff numbers.

"If the workload of officers in Cumbria is increasing month on month and the number of officers is decreasing then there is going to be an unfortunate knock on effect and we are seeing that now," he said.

According to the FOI figures, the cost of the sickness days to the taxpayer was more than £800,000.

Mr Plummer blamed government cuts for the ever-increasing pressures piled on the police, who he says are 'spinning so many plates' and 'do not have the resources' to cope.

He said that the increased workload is also in part due to more alleged victims coming forward to report crimes, including historic sexual offences.

"We are victims of our own success," he said. "As the public trust more in us they are willing to come forward with their unfortunate situations and we are trying our very best to deal with a high workload.

"Cuts have consequences and the government was told that a long, long time ago. We were not crying wolf and we are not scaremongerin. Unfortunately it's the police officers and their health that is paying the price."

And South Lakes MP Tim Farron has said he is 'hugely concerned' by the figures.

“The Government’s decision to plough ahead with dangerous cuts to police budgets has left local officers being asked to do more and more with less resources," he said. “The shortages are affecting the health of officers and these new figures are a huge concern."

Last year the Gazette reported that 5,230 sick days were lost due to stress and anxiety in 2015/16, in contrast to 2,703 in 2013/14.

A Home Office spokesperson said that the government had protected overall police spending in real terms since the 2015 Spending Review.

"Cumbria Police has received £100.4m in total direct resource funding this year, which is £1.2m more than 2015-16. In March 2017, Cumbria Police had reserves of over £24m," said the spokesman.

"We recognise however that demand on the police is changing, and we are very sensitive to the pressure they are under. That is why we are reviewing demand and resilience, as well as police plans for greater efficiency and prudent use of over £1.6 billion of financial reserves."

Cumbria Constabulary deputy chief constable Michelle Skeer said that the organisation was 'proactive' in its approach to the identification and management of psychological matters.

“Officers and staff performing roles identified as high-risk undergo a mandatory annual psychological assessment in order to identify and address psychological issues at an early opportunity," she said. "This has resulted in an increased number of officers and staff being identified as at risk with appropriate support put in place.

“A force-wide wellbeing strategy has been introduced which concentrates on the individual and signposts them to a range of support options available to them. This is continually communicated to officers and staff to ensure they know how to access the support measures available.

“Bespoke training has been issued to managers which gives them the tools to support those absent from work. This work has led to a decrease in the overall sickness figures which includes both physical and psychological absence types.

“The work that has taken place over the past two years is pivotal to ensuring that we have sufficient officers and staff available to meet the needs of the county and keeping people safe, whilst ensuring the overall wellbeing of staff."