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It mostly covers my work as UNISON Scotland's Head of Policy and Public Affairs although views are my own. For full coverage of UNISON Scotland's policy and campaigns please visit our web site. You can also follow me on Twitter. I hope you find this blog interesting and I would welcome your comments.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Staffing cuts lead to assaults at work

A 'toxic cocktail' of staffing cuts and violence against public service workers has resulted in another increase in violent incidents across Scottish councils and NHS Scotland.

I am at Stirling University today presenting UNISON Scotland's annual survey of violent incidents to UNISON's health and safety conference. 33,689 incidents were reported to public service employers last year - almost 14,000 more than when the first survey was first conducted in 2006.

In probably the only employment group protected from cuts, police officers, the number of incidents fell by around one-third (by 3074 to 6187). However, council and NHS workers, who face big staffing reductions, have seen an increase in violent incidents. Incidents in councils have increased by 730 to 14,879. NHS incidents are up by 1744 to 12618.

In simple terms, the biggest increase in violent incidents is happening in those services that have suffered staffing cuts. This statistical correlation is backed up by feedback from members who highlight too few staff to deliver on the risk assessments that have been undertaken. A particular concern is the impact of welfare reform. Our members are having to ask some very intrusive questions of service users who are at the sharp end of benefit cuts and other service reductions. It is sadly inevitable that verbal abuse will increasingly turn violent.

The politicians who pass these evil laws are not having to face the consequences of their decisions. It is public service workers are the front line. Workers are stretched too thinly, dealing with the public who are coping with cuts in the services they rely on.

I am pleased to say that there has been some improvement in recording, particularly in the NHS, but some councils couldn’t even produce statistics. If they can’t produce decent statistics they cannot be monitoring, let alone tackling the problem. There are also positive indications that a number of public bodies are preparing for further problems when the full impact of welfare reform happens. There is very clear guidance for councils on how to address this issue in Managing Occupational Violence in the Workplace (2010). NHS Scotland has similar PIN polices.

Convictions under the Emergency Workers Act have increased again last year by 32 to 355. Due to the limited scope of the Act few violent incidents result in criminal action. Sadly, efforts to address this were blocked by the Scottish Government when they opposed Hugh Henry MSP’s, Protection of Worker’s Bill. The UK Government has also undermined protection for workers with cuts to the Criminal Injury Compensation scheme. The Scottish Conservatives recently published the outcome of their FoI survey of assaults on emergency workers. While we welcome their interest, we could have done with their support in changing the legislation! Not to mention their government cuts that are adding to the problems of our members.

Behind every violent incident is a personal tragedy for the worker concerned. Often short term physical injury and longer term psychological damage. No one should have to work under the fear of assault.

The UNISON Scotland Survey of Violence at Work 2012 is online here:

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