Online magazine ‘Inside Housing’ surveyed housing associations across Britain to ask how many physical and verbal attacks had been recorded between the beginning of 2015 and early 2016. An additional anonymous survey asked detailed questions on the type of assaults they have experienced. It probed as to whether or not they report such incidents.
When comparing the data collected from 2015 to that of 2014, there was a 10.5% drop in reported incidents. This may seem positive, but the anonymous survey of front-line workers may not reflect the entire truth.
When asked if they felt more or less safe doing their job in housing than they did 12 months ago, 69.6% of responders said they felt the same. 27.9% said they actually felt less safe. Just 2.6% said they felt more safe. So where does the anomaly lie?
One social housing officer from the South West of England said;
“I have reported some assaults before, but nothing gets done and I feel it’s now part of my job. However, I do feel extremely stressed by it.”
Could it be that there is no improvement in the number of assaults? Or worse still the number has risen, yet the number reported has fallen? Are employees regarding assaults as ‘part of their job’?
The research undertaken by Inside Housing sheds some light on these questions.
69% say they have been verbally assaulted while doing their job in the last 12 months. Even more concerning, several respondents said they had been taken hostage in the same period. 17 said they’ve been punched, kicked or pushed. A further nine were attacked with a weapon.
Yet 40% told Inside Housing they did not report all of the attacks to their employer. When quizzed as to why, just under half said ‘incidents like this are just part of my job.’
Melanie Rees, Head of Policy at the Chartered Institute of Housing, explains. “Sometimes there is a tendency to shrug it off or to feel like housing staff need to shrug it off… There’s a sense that it’s part of the job and you put up with it.”
A noteworthy number of responders, 7% to be precise, said that due to the vast amount of paperwork involved they tend not to have time to report an assault.
A number of organisations have made efforts to convince employees that being on the receiving end of abuse should not be classed as part of the job. Some organisations work proactively to improve their reporting procedures. They’ve held training with staff to ensure unreasonable behaviour is consistently reported.
Why do 27.9% of respondents feel less safe?
In July 2015, George Osbourne announced that social housing rents would be cut by 1% every year until 2020. A number of social landlords have announced redundancies with remaining staff expected to take on larger amounts of work.
35% of respondents from the anonymous survey felt that staff cutbacks had made it more likely that they would work alone, making going about their role less safe. The introduction of bedroom tax, Universal Credit and the benefit cap has put a huge strain on the relationship between tenants and their landlords – the rent collectors.
A housing manager in Scotland told Inside Housing,
“Welfare reform is creating a huge amount of anxiety and stress for customers. Ultimately people and organisations who are trying to recover debt from those customers end up on the receiving end.”
In a similar comment, the Director of Neighbourhoods at a South-East based association says the reforms have created the ‘perfect cocktail’ for tension between housing staff and tenants.
Overall, the research highlights the difficulty in accurately interpreting a rise or fall in incidents of assault. It could well be argued that employees have the tendency to not report an incident when it has occurred due to overriding factors, such as lengthy paperwork involved and the assumption that it is part of their job. However, with staff feeling less safe in their roles since the cutbacks, it would be beneficial for employers to reassure staff that their safety is paramount.