Skip to main content

SWU supports the Abuse of Public-facing Workers (Offences) Bill as part of the Service with Respect campaign

People in public-facing jobs across all sectors – including social work – have been subjected to rising hostility and abuse since the end of the COVID-19 lockdowns

Proud to support #ServiceWithRespect - Back Our Essential Workers | The Institute of Customer Service

A year ago the Institute of Customer Service (ICS) – which is the secretariat for the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Customer Service – found shocking levels of abuse in the customer service part of retail. The ICS team investigated if this was a larger issue across all front-line levels of customer services and research shows this to be the case. Abuse was seen across many different sectors including construction, hospitality, transport, contact centres, retail, and utility workers.

There is currently some existing legislation to protect essential workers, but not enough is being done to protect public-facing workers like social workers who aren’t classified as such by the government. This is why BASW and SWU jointly petitioned Parliament earlier this year to include social workers in the Assaults on Emergency Workers Act and the fact that the 'Assaults on Social Workers' petition received over 13,000 signatures clearly shows that social workers need more protection at work.

The Social Workers Union (SWU) is delighted to have been approached by Olivia Blake MP – one of several cross-party MPs backing the ICS’s Service with Respect campaign – to become involved.

The Service with Respect campaign has a three-pronged approach to addressing the hostility faced by front-line staff:

  1. Organisations to have a zero tolerance approach to staff abuse – including reporting, training, and supporting their staff. Trade unions are key supporters of this action.
  2. An appeal for members of the public to stop and think about their actions.
  3. Campaigning for the government to legislate with the Abuse of Public-facing Workers (Offences) Bill. Blake introduced this 10-minute rule bill to create a new offence of abuse of public-facing workers and it is due for a second reading in January 2022.

The ICS has been running a series of employee surveys on the levels of abuse and hostilities faced every 2 months to get a read of the situation. Here are some of the current realities of public-facing workers:

  • 50% have experienced abuse/hostility in the past 6 months
  • 60% have experienced face-to-face hostility
  • 20% have experienced physical abuse
  • 12% have experienced online hostility
  • 37% effectively see experiencing abuse/hostility as part of their day job

No one should have to put up with that and everyone should be able to go about their job without fear of reprisal. When asked “Has it gotten worse in past 6 months?”, employees replied:

  • 38% said yes
  • 47% said it has stayed the same

This problem is getting worse; it’s not going away.

In an article for the Guardian Denise Monks of the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) said she could not remember a time in her career when she was not being spat at or threatened. She said, ‘What is new over the past few years is a growth in vexatious complaints that come in weekly, or sometimes daily. Complaints are important because they help us learn what’s going wrong, but now we’ll see individuals making a series of complaints, often aimed at individual social workers.’ She also said that although the complaints may be baseless, they still need to be formally investigated, which takes time and energy away from other cases.

SWU Ambassador Professor Jermaine Ravalier of Bath Spa University has collaborated on a study of 12,000 UK teachers and found that 40% of primary teachers and 20% of secondary school teachers had reported negative parental behaviour.

The Service with Respect campaign aims to keep the government is focused on this issue and for the Abuse of Public-facing Workers (Offences) Bill to act as a deterrent to abuse of public-facing workers – which is the same type of protection afforded to essential workers and also certain types of social work in Scotland. SWU supports this campaign, alongside over 200 organizations from across many industries.

SWU General Secretary John McGowan said at the most recent Service with Respect campaign roundtable meeting:

"I have been a social worker for over 20 years and hostility and abuse towards social workers has always been a problem. Tensions exist when social workers arrive unwanted or have to intervene urgently. Social workers are welcomed with open arms when offering a support package, but in the context of adult and child protection we’re dealing with very vulnerable individuals who are experiencing a difficult time in their lives.

"Social workers were included in the 2005 Emergency Worker Act in Scotland (Scottish Parliament) but they were not included in 2018 Assaults on Emergency Workers Act (UK Parliament) despite our petition to Parliament that received over 13,000 signatures. Our members clearly want this protection, and this Service and Respect campaign is standing up for the protection of social workers and other overlooked professionals."