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Phil Crooks: "Domestic abuse is a scourge on our society"

Phil CrooksUsdaw, the shopworkers' union, is holding its Annual Delegate Meeting in Blackpool this weekend. Our trade union liaison committee chair Phil Crooks was there, and spoke in support of his branch's motion to lobby government for better support for victims of domestic abuse. Here below is the full text of his speech:

'President, Conference, good morning. Phil Crooks, C076, Home Counties Tesco Retail One. First time delegate and speaker.

 

“This ADM calls upon the Executive Council to lobby the government of the day to legislate for the provision of greater workplace support for people who have suffered or who are suffering any form of domestic abuse, particularly through the introduction of proper support schemes in all workplaces.”

 

According to Home Office figures, domestic abuse accounts for sixteen per cent of all reported violent crime, but is the least likely to be reported to police.

 

It has more repeat victims than any other crime. On average, a victim will have been assaulted thirty-five times before they seek help.

 

It is the single most commonly given reason for becoming homeless.

 

It leads, on average, to the murder of two women a week, and to the murder of thirty men a year.

 

Studies estimate that it doubles the risk of clinical depression among those whom it afflicts.

 

And, over the course of an average lifetime, it will afflict one in four women and one in six men.

 

The victims of domestic abuse come from all walks of life. All ages, all races, all genders, all classes, all sexualities. They are our parents, our siblings, our children, our friends, our colleagues. Most of the people in this room will feel the impact of domestic abuse on their lives -- either on themselves, or on someone close to them.

 

It is a scourge on our society, against which we have a duty to fight.

 

We fight it by educating people to recognise the hallmarks of abusive relationships.

 

We fight it by fitting the punishment of abuse to the wreckage left behind by the crime.

 

And we fight it by empowering those going through it to seek help.

 

It is this last point - of empowerment - that this proposition seeks to address.

 

In the earliest stages, as a relationship turns abusive, the abuser will often seek to isolate their victim. Removing access to support structures that might interfere.

 

The abuser might forbid their victim from going out, or from contact with friends and family. They might try to control what their victim wears, what their victim eats. They might deny their victim space -- constantly texting and calling them, checking on where they are, what they are doing, who they are with.

 

They might seek to sow doubt in their victim’s mind, manipulating them into second-guessing their memory, their perception, even their very sanity -- a technique known as “gaslighting.”

 

They might make decisions for their victim without any discussion or input or consent.

 

All to remove the victim’s control over their own life.

 

It is at this early stage that we, at work - and our employers - have the best opportunity to intervene.

 

Any organisation in this country that employs people owes them a legal duty of care - to protect their health and safety in the workplace to the best of their ability. I believe - I suspect not alone - that our employers also owe us a moral duty of care. Of concern for our welfare outside the workplace.

 

If only as a practical matter. An employee who fears for their safety at home is much less likely to be able to do the job they are paid to do. It is in our employers’ interest to work to provide their employees with help and support in their wider lives. Concern for workers’ welfare is part of a progressive tradition that includes the Co-operative Movement, John Cadbury’s establishment of Bournville, or the London Brick Company’s village of Stewartby back home in Bedfordshire.

 

My own employer, Tesco, certainly seems to hold this view. They offer an array of benefits to their staff aimed at helping them live healthier and happier lives. Benefits like discounted gym memberships and subsidised cycle-to-work schemes, aimed at improving our well-being both at work and outside it.

 

If one company in one sector can do this, then what could all of them do - together - across the workforce - against the horror of domestic abuse?

 

Support schemes need not be grand or paternalistic or even expensive. They could begin with something as simple as training staff to recognise the signs of abuse.

 

Or establishing systems by which an employee who is worried about a colleague can ask their managers to keep a closer eye on them, discreetly, in case they ever need help.

 

Or providing extra flexibility in work schedules to accommodate those who need a reason to be away from home and among people that they can trust.

 

Or, in the worst case, holding their job open for them, be it in their current workplace or on another site. Giving them the knowledge that, should they need to seek shelter from their abuser, they won’t have to worry about making ends meet.

 

That’s just four ideas, from one person, examining the issue from one perspective. There is no reason at all why the support schemes this proposition calls for cannot or should not help the people who most need them, while also remaining mindful of the needs of individual businesses. The balance is there to be found; all that’s needed is the will to do so.

 

The tragedy of domestic abuse is not just that it takes away the safety of home for the victim, but that it also robs them of a normal life outside it. Victims of domestic abuse spend their lives with one eye looking over their shoulder, waiting to see who is coming up behind them. Employers have the golden opportunity to help them watch their back, and so help them to live their lives again, the way all of us deserve to be able to.

 

Conference, today we have the chance to call upon government and business to live up to a moral duty. In doing so, not only could we improve our members’ lives, we could save our members’ lives.

 

I urge you to support.

 

Thank you, conference. I move.'

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