Toxic cocktail of spending cuts and violence

Date: Friday 25 October 2013

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

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.

UNISON’s Scottish Organiser Dave Watson will present the union’s annual survey of violent incidents to UNISON’s health and safety conference at Stirling University on Friday 26 October.

Dave Watson said:
“The biggest increase in violent incidents is happening in those services that have suffered staffing cuts. Workers are stretched too thinly, dealing with the public who are coping with cuts in the services they rely on. This is a toxic cocktail that is putting hard pressed workers at greater risk of violent assault.”

There has been some improvement in recording, particularly in the NHS, but some councils couldn’t even produce statistics. There are also indications that a number of public bodies are preparing for further problems when the full impact of welfare reform happens.

Scott Donohoe, chair of UNISON Scotland’s Health and Safety Committee, said:
“These numbers only cover recorded incidents – the tip of the iceberg of misery for many staff. While we are pleased that employers are improving their systems, others have obviously got some way to go. If they can’t produce decent statistics they cannot be tackling the problem”.

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.


Note for editors:
The UNISON Scotland Survey of Violence at Work 2012 is online here: ViolenceAtWorkSurveyOctober2013.pdf

The councils that couldn’t even collate the statistics are: Angus, Aberdeenshire, West Dunbartonshire, East Dunbartonshire and East Renfrewshire.

There is very clear guidance for councils on how to address this issue inManaging Occupational Violence in the Workplace (2010). NHS Scotland has similar PIN guidelines.

For further information please contact:
Dave Watson, UNISON Scottish Organiser, on 07958 122 409