THE BLOG

'Hard-Working People': More Than Just A Slogan

14/01/2014 12:14 GMT | Updated 16/03/2014 09:59 GMT

For those of you misfortunate enough to be represented by a Conservative MP, or to be following one on Twitter, or watching one on television, the last twelve months have been a horrendous ordeal, punctuated, almost without fail, with the use of term "hardworking people".

Not the lazy, or the idle, or even the rich, but hard working.

Essex Man. Mondeo Man, even Ukip man.

In short, the Conservatives, facing up to the toxicity of their brand, have been trying to convince the electorate that they care about "ordinary families".

Imagine, then, my surprise when last December the Government opposed an amendment I had tabled to the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill.

The amendment concerned the assault of public-facing workers; nurses, teachers, transport workers, shop workers, and bar staff, people who truly warrant the term hard-working.

In particular, the amendment tried to resolve two problems relating to assaults in the workplace:

Firstly, it attempted to deal with the sheer number of such incidents.

Secondly, it tried to increase the number of people prosecuted for such crimes.

Let me elaborate.

At present, there are over 110,000 attacks on public-facing workers every year. To make matters worse, many of these crimes aren't brought to court, with the Crown Prosecution Service deciding, with penalties as low as £50, that such cases simply aren't worth their while.

There is, in other words, neither justice nor deterrence.

My amendment would have tackled both issues by making the assault of a public-facing worker (during the course of their employment) a separate criminal offence, increasing the seriousness of such a crime as well as the penalties on offer.

This in turn would have offered workers greater protection, whilst also helping increase the number of prosecutions by escalating the severity of punishments on offer. A similar law in Scotland, protecting emergency workers, has made a real difference, bringing in over 1100 prosecutions.

Tough on crime, tough on the... well you get the point.

The Government, however, rejected my amendment out of hand.

Firstly, they complained that such an amendment would only complicate the legal system further: a plausible defence were not for the immensely complicated nature of laws governing Common Assault (how the assault of a worker is currently categorised).

Secondly, and most astonishingly, they said that workers don't deserve additional or special protection because unlike police officers (who are granted extra protection by the legal system through harsher penalties against those who offend against them) they are not asked to place themselves in dangerous situations.

Now think for a second about nurses that have to deal with angry patients in A and E; ticket collectors dealing with anti-social commuters; shop owners selling alcohol or cigarettes; bar and security staff at the local pub or club, or bus drivers assigned to the late shift.

Do these people not place themselves in potentially dangerous situations? Are they not, like police officers, similarly charged with enforcing the law, be it on age-restricted items or anti-social behaviour?

I am, of course, not arguing that public-facing workers should be given the same level of protection as our police, but do they not deserve more protection than we currently afforded them?

The Conservatives, and the Liberal Democrats, think not. To paraphrase another Tory slogan, when it comes to hard working people, they're not thinking what we're thinking.

I'll be re-tabling my amendment in the House of Lord's later today, offering the Conservatives another chance to show where their priorities really lie.

For the sake of the 100,000 or so Britons assaulted in work each year, it's a chance I hope they take.