ATTACKS on front-line council staff are only likely to worsen as austerity continues to bite, unions have warned.
The Yorkshire Post has revealed that there were more than 7,250 incidents of assaults on council employees in 2016 and 2017, ranging from verbal abuse to punching, breaks and even sexual harassment.
Unison regional organiser Robin Symonds said it had seen an increase in incidents of violence and aggression towards local authority employees over recent years, “which correlates to the reduction in central government funding and consequent cuts to employee numbers”.
“Public sector workers are the public face of all local councils and all too often bear the brunt of frustration and anger of service users whose expectations remain the same even though their council's budget has been drastically reduced over the last seven years.
“Unison members report that this is a problem affecting all council workers - from refuse collectors receiving abuse because they now empty bins less frequently to teaching assistants whose numbers have been cut whilst class sizes have increased.
“Often incidents go unreported and the true extent of the problem is almost certainly even worse than it appears. The real worry though is that the problem is likely to worsen as austerity is set to continue".
His thoughts were echoed by the GMB, who said employers have a duty of care to protect staff.
Senior organiser for public services for Yorkshire and North Derbyshire, Desiree Wilburn said: “These people are doing the best they can to deliver a service or to help people, however, there are individuals out there with mental health problems or frustrations, and our members seem to be on the receiving end.
“This is not isolated to local authorities, this is happening in the NHS, police, and other organisations too. We are hoping the Protect the Protectors Bill will go through and have an impact.
“It cannot continue like this.”
That Bill, supported by Halifax MP Holly Lynch, proposes to offer more protection for police, firefighters and NHS workers from assaults. It took a step closer to becoming law in October when it was unanimously supported in Parliament on its second reading.
However, its powers would not be extended to council staff or teachers, who made up a large proportion of the victims of the assaults revealed by the Yorkshire Post.
Not all authorities revealed exactly who or where the assaults on staff were on or took place, but five of the 21 who responded - Doncaster, East Riding, Kirklees, North Yorkshire and Rotherham - were able to give explicit figures on assaults in schools. They revealed 2,380 incidents, just under a third of the total 7,254 incidents.
The National Union of Teachers’ national executive committee member for South Yorkshire, Simon Murch said the figure was a “great concern,” and said the figure was likely to be even higher is incidents were not reported or broken down.
He said: “No teacher should feel unsafe or threatened within their working environment. That impacts on the individual teachers and of course their ability to deliver high quality education to the rest of the class. A disruption in class, or in the school, due to physical or verbal assault by a pupil is not conducive to a positive education environment.”
He believes a standardised approach to monitoring incidents should also be used, which would also help policies and training to reduce their impact.
In Rotherham, 1,127 incidents took place in school.
Rotherham Council’s strategic director of children and young people’s services, Ian Thomas, said the incidents reflected the “robust reporting procedures” the authority has in place.
He added: “Although the overwhelming majority of reported incidents are minor, we actively encourage schools and all Council colleagues to report any incidents to ensure we continue to monitor, learn from and ensure proper procedures are in place.
“The authority also works closely with all schools to provide advice, training and support to staff to minimise incidents.”