Housing officers in the firing line
Physical attacks on staff rise 35 per cent as assaults become a daily occurrence, surveys reveal
Every day in the UK a front line housing worker is the victim of violent assault, exclusive research has revealed.
Figures from freedom of information requests and questionnaires to more than 220 social landlords conducted by Inside Housing, expose for the first time the shocking number of reported physical and verbal attacks against housing staff between January 2009 and 31 March this year.
Front line workers reported 8,898 assaults over the period - around 1,350 of which were physical.
The data shows the number of reported incidents is rising year-on-year. Around 480 physical attacks were logged in 2011 - a 35 per cent leap on the number recorded in 2010.
Worryingly, these figures do not reflect the full scale of the abuse routinely directed at housing employees.
A separate survey of 134 front line workers, conducted between April and May this year, found that more than a third had not reported assaults to their employer. This is despite the fact 13 per cent of survey respondents had been pushed, kicked or punched while doing their job since the beginning of 2009.
Shadow housing minister Jack Dromey said: ‘Government cuts to housing are not only hitting tenants hard but putting at risk the safety of those who serve the public. To add insult to literal injury, changes such as the bedroom tax might see tenants vent their anger on those in the front line.’
Jake Berry, parliamentary private secretary to the housing minister, said: ‘Any assaults on housing staff are absolutely unacceptable’, and that Mr Dromey’s comments linking changes to benefits to violence were ‘utterly baseless and completely disgraceful’.
A weapon had been used against 8 per cent of respondents to the survey of front line housing workers while 6 per cent had been taken hostage.
John Gray, housing association branch secretary at public sector union Unison, said: ‘This is what happens in the everyday life of housing officers up and down the country.’
He added that tenants who fall into rent arrears as a result of the government’s welfare reforms and are threatened with eviction ‘won’t blame the coalition, they’ll blame the infantry’.
John Meldrum, neighbourhood relations team manager at arm’s-length management organisation Gateshead Housing Company, said many organisations already ‘instruct staff to wear stab-proof vests or other personal protective equipment’, although his organisation does not.
John Bryant, policy leader at the National Housing Federation, said: ‘Housing staff are entitled to go about their business without being subjected to violence, threats or other abuse.’