Why we should ALL worry about OnlyFans stopping porn

The announcement this week of popular London-based tech company OnlyFans banning all sexually explicit content as of October 2021 is a HUGE deal, and something that ought to concern us ALL. 

Whilst OnlyFans, contrary to popular belief, isn’t just a porn site but a content platform open to all kinds of content creators, its largest revenue source is undoubtedly the 20% commission taken from sexual content. 

So why would OnlyFans be digging its own grave and cutting in excess of 95% of its revenue stream? 

The answer to that question comes down to the hold that payment processing companies Visa and MasterCard have over their operations and the complete dependance of either of these payment processing companies. 

OnlyFans’ say that their decision follows threats by banking partners and payment providers to stop all payment processing to the company, which mirrors a previous decision by Mastercard to stand by Visa who threatened to do the same to MindGeek, the parent company of sites including PornHub, unless they removed all ‘unverified’ content from their platform.

MindGeek was accused of facilitating the posting so-called ‘revenge-porn’ and only after removing all unverified content, to satisfy both payment processing services, were they allowed to continue operating. It’s a similar story for OnlyFans after controversy surrounding allegations of underage sexual content being on their platform. Despite the company removing ’15 accounts’ suspected of containing such content, payment processing companies were not satisfied that this was enough, thus presenting an ultimatum – stop all sexual content, or get no money whatsoever. 

I’m not defending either MindGeek nor OnlyFans. For the former, it should never have been within their business model to – whether inadvertently or not – allow for ‘revenge porn’ to be hosted on their platform and as for the latter, it isn’t long ago that the children’s commissioner Dame Rachel de Souza expressed deep concern after an investigation by the BBC found that under 18s have been able to use fake identification to set up accounts on the platform, thus clearly demonstrating that the platform’s security checks are not as stringent as they ought to be. 

Setting aside the operations of both MindGeek and OnlyFans, the wider concern is the serious problems presented when in effect, payment processing companies are able to dictate which businesses exist – or don’t.  

Whilst Visa and MasterCard are not the only payment platforms available, 50% of electronic transactions worldwide are processed through Visa, with MasterCard holding 25.6%, followed by UnionPay, Amex and JCB. In the UK alone, Visa holds a whooping 82% marketshare of payment card schemes, with 17% share going to MasterCard and the remaining 1% with Amex. With such dominance causing a reliance for both consumers and businesses, the problem presented is that these are private companies who can dictate how money is used and which businesses they are permitting you to transact with. 

Binance, Kraken and Coinbase 

In recent months, a popular surge of cryptocurrency in what is referred to as a ‘bull run’ has resulted in billions from fiat markets being transferred to and held in digital assets most commonly purchased through crypto asset trade platforms such as Binance, Kraken and Coinbase. There is an obvious correlation between a loss of confidence in traditional financial institutions and an increase in crypto investment, with the creation of Bitcoin, the father of cryptocurrency, originally being a response to the perceived untrustworthiness of traditional financial institutions.

Whilst the recent crypto ‘bull-run’ isn’t necessarily caused by a loss of confidence in banks, the growing interest in crypto is predominantly based on increased resentment towards the control that financial institutions have on our lives – and this presents a massive problem for banks who rely on ‘holding’ our money to stay in business – which is that – they don’t actually hold our money, but invest it into all kinds of shady schemes, lend it out and gamble it for profit, meaning that if everybody starts to withdraw their money into crypto, the scenes from outside Northern Rock during the 2008 financial crisis repeats itself, digitally.

In the UK, major banks including Barclays, TSB, Monzo, HSBC, Santander, Metro and others have responded by banning the sending or receiving of funds from crypto exchanges. They say that this is to “safeguard and protect customers” and prevent money-laundering and/or other criminal activity.

Crypto-exchanging can be a risky business and it has resulted in millions lost by consumers, whether through scams, bad investments or losing access to their assets. We also can’t ignore the problems surrounding crypto and the potential for criminals to benefit from the relative ease of laundering money and transferring victims’ money into untraceable cryptocurrencies.

However, there are crypto assets that may be a viable investment opportunity for consumers. Examples include Cardano, Ethereum and Binance Coin, all of which have real-use cases in the form of ‘smart contracts’. There are other investments too, such as VeChain, which is a supply chain tracking system with clients including BMW, PWC, Kuehne & Nagel and many others. Banks dictating where consumers and businesses can spend their money should be an uncomfortable position for all, particularly when considering the track-records of these banks, who rely heavily on taxpayer bail-outs when their shady investments go wrong but then choose to dictate what you can do with your own money. 

Going back to OnlyFans and its content creators

There may well be examples of misuse of the OnlyFans platform, but it is important to remember that most content is indeed perfectly legal and therefore, an already stigmatised sector of workers face not only the prospect of lost revenue, but also of difficulties in the employment market due to the stigma associated with porn. This presents a huge dilemma for sex-workers and pornographic content creators on the OnlyFans platform who now need to seek out alternative platforms and re-establish themselves and rebuild their client base, facing the risk of being banned from those platforms too, following an unappealable, undemocratic decision taken by a private financial institution. 

You may be thinking to yourself that the protection of children outweighs the impact on sex-workers, but flipping the example around to an industry more ‘acceptable’ in society, imagine the impact if financial institutions decided that they will no longer facilitate payments for alcohol or for certain foods. Taking things to an extreme, imagine if Visa and MasterCard decide (which, right now – they’re perfectly entitled) to no longer facilitate payments to independent high-street businesses because there are a few small businesses failing to pay adequate tax, are hiring people that Visa and MasterCard don’t agree with or that Visa’s directors have business interests in Amazon. 

Of course this doesn’t negate the social responsibility of content platforms and social-media networks to mitigate the risks associated with abuse, but equally, the risks associated with the dictatorship abilities of financial institutions can not be ignored. 

Crypto-assets and the future

There are at least three anonymous payment solutions that may be a viable solution to OnlyFans sex-workers, that is – ‘CumRocket’, ‘PornRocket’ and ‘SpankBank’. These crypto projects facilitate the exchange of payment through anonymous transactions of ‘tokens’ which can be swapped between crypto-assets (money) and non-fungible tokens (content). CumRocket, as an example, promises to charge significantly lower commission than OnlyFans’ 20% – something great for the content-creator, however, perhaps not so great for the future… 

… It’s important to stress that I’m not accusing any of the three mentioned platforms above of facilitating abuse – both for legal reasons and also because I simply don’t know enough about them to offer that verdict, but it is important to consider the realistic prospect that when financial institutions do make decisions about how money is controlled, people inevitably find ways around this – and following the demise of OnlyFans, the floodgates are open to the potential for the gap in this market to be filled by service providers able to rely on the anonymity of crypto-asset and blockchain technologies, who may well decide not to have the same intention as OnlyFans to at least ‘try’ to mitigate the risk of under-18 content from finding itself on their platform.

Ultimately, a decision by private financial institutions to destroy an entire business which in turn will have devastating consequences for sex-workers, doesn’t actually mean that there will be a reduction in the abuse of online content-platforms – it just means that things go underground, causing an even bigger problem. For those who think I’m over-exaggerating and believe things won’t go underground – think for a moment what has happened following the criminalisation of cannabis – have people stopped using cannabis? – or are people now relying on dodgy drug-dealers who sell skunk as opposed to the real thing?

Crypto technologies exist for the very real problem of our reliance on financial institutions and banks and the ever-growing distrust towards them by the consumer. The behaviour of Visa and MasterCard towards OnlyFans is a perfect example citable by those in favour of deregulated cryptocurrencies, which, whilst great for breaking dependance and reliance – does open a can of worms and a future where legitimate and necessary cases for regulation is no longer even possible. 

*Image credit: Forbes / Alamy

Why I distrust British Police and their obsession with data collection.

My concerns about how the PND is used… and what the solution to it is.

Advertised as an example of what policing ought to look like and hailed to the world as ‘the very best’ – British police have a proud history, and indeed, the fact we have a majority of officers not carrying firearms, robust codes of practices in place along with stringent disciplinary and complaints processes – there is much to celebrate.

However, delve inside and there remains significant problems that arguably detract from the positives to the extent that to continue the boast of ‘the very best’ is both misleading and disingenuous

Rife with racism, an obsession with data collection and failure at victim care is the reality of British policing, far from the golden pinnacle it pretends to be.

A few months ago, I wrote about racism in the police service and why the 40% increase in BAME officers target is farcical. 

There’s another issue that I have been meaning to write about for quite some time. 

That is – data, and the British police obsession with it.

All 43 police forces in the UK, the British Transport Police, Police Scotland, and other agencies including the Home Office, National Crime Agency and more have access to the Police National Computer (PNC). This system has been operational since 1974 and its purpose was a simple one – to store information on criminals. 

Now, it comprises several databases that contains over 13 million personal records, 58.5 million driver records and 62.6 million vehicle records. 

Food for thought: With that many records – Exactly how much of it is accurate? 

Forces also use ‘PND’, which is the Police National Database. This system is available to all UK police forces and other select law enforcement agencies and it currently holds over 3,500,000,000. No, there is no typo there and yes – three point five…BILLION entries with over 20,000,000 (yes – twenty MILLION) additional entries added each month. 

So what exactly is stored on the PNC and the PND? 

Having served as a Constable with direct access to both the PNC, PND and other databases, the simple answer to this question is – Everything. 

From descriptions of clothing to tattoos, allegations – whether founded or not, to vehicle descriptions and markers, to health markers – whether accurate or not; policing databases in the UK contain, as stated above, over 3.5 billion entries of data about virtually anything. 

Whilst I recognise, particularly following the Bichard inquiry, that the PND serves a solid purpose of safeguarding, countering-terrorism and preventing and disrupting serious, organised crime – I do have a huge issue with the PND.

That is – the inevitable mistakes of input in data, leading to an impossibility to ever comply with GDPR principles and basics in human rights and an individual’s right to a private life. Any police officer or other person with access to the PND can input whatever they like into it, without verifying its accuracy. 

“Nothing to hide, nothing to fear” – proponents of data collection use this saying to defend data collection; ultimately – why should one worry about their data being recorded, if they have nothing to hide? However, the “nothing to hide” principle ignores an important point: that you have no idea what data is being collected and the future implications of that data on the data subject, particularly where that data is wrong, misjudged or dare I say it – malicious.

A few months ago, whilst working for Deliveroo, I was subjected to an assault – pushed out of a restaurant for simply asking to use the toilet. The restaurant called the police on me and when the police turned up, it was obvious that they were unaware of health and safety regulations governing courier work and the rights of delivery drivers. The restauranteur alleged that I kicked him and so the police insisted that they take my details, despite my protests. If I did not hand my details over, I was threatened with arrest. 

Video footage shows clearly that the restauranteur’s allegation is wholly unfounded. Yet, my name, address and date of birth is now registered on the PND, accessible to thousands of police officers across the country, showing me to be an ‘alleged suspect’ of an assault. If I were to apply for enhanced ‘developed vetting’ or other security clearance, this is something that will flag up. When I complained to the police, an Inspector called me to discuss the matter and told me that there is no way that the data can be altered. He ‘reassured’ me that “it’s just an allegation, nothing is proven” and that it will have no adverse effect on me (yeah, right…)

In 2015, when I tried and failed to join the Metropolitan Police Service, details of two unlawful arrests remained on the PND, despite being compensated a sum of over £18,500 and being issued an apology from the police with a promise to “remove the data concerning both arrests”. This led to months of stress, a need to involve a Sunday Times journalist and submit various freedom of information and subject access requests until the truth was unveiled – that data about me was unlawfully held, which led to the “Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police reserving the right to refuse candidates without giving any reasons”. 

Not only that – other things that were uncovered include details of previous stop and searches, such as the time I was with my fellow plane enthusiast friend and stopped by armed police for taking a photograph of the new Airbus A380, in a public place, under S44 of the Terrorism Act and details of a vehicle stop where I was maliciously handcuffed and searched for drugs for “having tinted windows” and being in a ‘high crime rate area’ (the only drugs that were found was a packet of paracetamol)

Can you see now why the Inspector’s comments to me meant nothing?

So yes – data can and does have a real impact on individuals, and particularly for those of us from BAME communities who find ourselves disproportionately stopped, searched, and harassed by police from a young age. The various freedom of information requests seeking access to documents surrounding the Metropolitan Police’s vetting panels as I mentioned above revealed a shockingly disproportionate number of BAME candidates having to appeal against their vetting rejection. In one 2015 panel, of the 10 cases presented, around 7 of these concerned a BAME candidate.

It is for this reason that I so strongly distrust the police service and why I feel that the British police are not the gold standard it portrays itself to be.

On YouTube, there are hundreds of recorded incidents where individuals are stopped, and their details requested. Many of the people filming refuse to hand their details over – as is their right to do so. Good on them. However, so many people going about their daily lives and unfortunately find themselves interacting with police do hand their details over, even when there is no legal justification for the police to hold it.

Ultimately, handing details over to the police inevitably leads to an individual being added to the data machine and the existing cohort of 3.5 billion. Whether you are guilty or not and regardless of the accuracy of the data – you become a data subject.

Whilst we live in a ‘democracy’ and have relatively stringent protections of our human rights (for now) – what would happen if the Human Rights Act was to be scrapped as is the proposition by many within our current government? The implication can be huge – Government will have access to mass data that in the hands of a corrupt regime will inevitably result in the persecution of individual citizens, curtailing liberties and freedoms and as a means to monitor and control the population. If you think I’m exaggerating – what do you think will happen if an authoritarian regime, such as the PRC or Russian government had access to the level of data collected by British police on its citizens?

I want to end this article by re-emphasising that I am not against data collection – it’s an important part of policing and law enforcement that serves a solid purpose of safeguarding vulnerable citizens, preventing crime and disrupting serious and organised criminals.

What I do believe, however, is that there needs to be transparency – individuals should be able to access their individual records without even having to submit subject access requests, perhaps through a system similar to how their “government ID gateway” works to access their driving or tax information. Obviously, there are reasons why some data should not be accessible to data subjects – particularly where this poses a risk to public safety, but in general, citizens should not have to battle a tedious process to see what data is held about them.

In addition, individuals should have the right to ask for amendments to their data and for such requests to be appropriately considered. In cases where allegations are made about individuals – why can’t they put ‘their side of events’ down too and for this to be recorded?

Finally, where no lawful reason exists to collect data – officers should not insist on a name and address beyond simply asking once, and this should be something incorporated into a code of practice on data collection. As with the YouTubers mentioned above (I mean, many are simply irritating and purposely provoking a reaction – but, despite mine or your views on it – being irritating…isn’t a crime…), unless the police detain someone or have a lawful justification to ask for a name, and where exists no repercussion from simply walking away – that person’s choice to not hand over their details must be respected.

The inequity of the Employment Tribunal system

Rampant cuts to legal aid, an inability to establish oneself as an ‘employee’ until 2 years service and a clash between generation and culture has led to the inevitable: an Employment Tribunal system that’s dated, unfit for purpose, inaccessible in effect and a minefield to navigate, which inevitably leads to the met objectives of over a decade of Tory leadership: an erosion of protection for workers, inequity in seeking justice and a free-pass for unscrupulous employers to get away with bullying, exploiting and threatening employees – confident in the knowledge that the said employee…can do sod all about it.

For the rich, not the poor.

Chris Grayling – famous for ruining… well, virtually anything he touches, found his infamous 2013 ‘Employment Tribunal fees’ policy embarrassingly overturned by the Supreme Court in 2017. This masterpiece policy introduced up to an eye watering £1,200 fee to bring a claim to the Employment Tribunal, even to fight for basic things such as asking for the Tribunal to rule that an employer must pay holiday leave or reinstate somebody dismissed for whistleblowing. Often, claimants were expected to cough up for declarations and not, like the Daily Mail would put it, claims for thousands of pounds in ‘Britens’ comp-en-sayshun kultcha’ 

This blatant attempt to lock-out those most vulnerable to the exploitation of unscrupulous employers was widely criticised at the time and rightly overturned following a claim brought by Unison. In effect, Grayling’s policy centred around the notion that ‘society’ should not have to pay for a system designed to protect employees from exploitation. Lobbied for by shady think-tanks and business interests, this policy had nothing to do with equity for the ‘tax-payer’, rather, it was all about protecting wealthy billionaires from employees fighting to assert their basic rights. 

The analogy I would use to describe this diabolical policy is to ask for users of the police service to cough up if they wish to assert their rights to access justice following an assault or a burglary – after all, why should all of society pay for the victim to access justice? 

However, despite this success and Employment Tribunal being free to access now, the reality is that… accessing the Employment Tribunal is still not ‘free’. 

Those who bring Employment Tribunal cases are rarely, if ever. In fact, there’s perhaps a less than 0.1% chance of being granted legal aid to bring about a claim to the Tribunal. Instead, vulnerable claimants who are in financial hardship as it is, because of the fact they’ve, well – uh, lost their job… can’t afford the legal fees associated with successfully bringing a claim. Solicitors fees can range anywhere between £50 for a shady lawyer to £500 for a good lawyer. These costs can get high, real quick, owing to complexities and the length of documents produced following an employment dispute, in-particular surrounding victimisation, bullying, harassment and unfair dismissal claims. 

Take things all the way to the Tribunal because the employer doesn’t want to settle, or you’re unable to agree to settlement terms, and you’re likely to have to cough up additional legal fees on a barrister. 

Lose your case – that money is gone.

Win your case – that money is gone too. 

How? You may ask. Well, judges are unlikely to award costs in Employment Tribunal claims and even if you settle before things get to Tribunal, you are still unable to apply for costs. This in effect means that most, if not all plus more of your compensation may well have been paid out towards your legal costs. 

I’m aware of a colleague in the past who brought an Employment Tribunal claim which cost them £13,000 in legal expenses and a whole deal of stress, and they were awarded £13,500 at Tribunal. All of their pain, suffering and weeks of preparation for the Tribunal was in effect, paid out to a lawyer. 

I’m not suggesting that this is the fault of lawyers – it is not, they are simply doing their job and getting paid to do so. However, serial cuts to legal aid under consecutive Government administrations, including Conservative and Labour, have led to a devastating impact on justice and people only seem to realise this once they’re in need of accessing that very system they’ve been convinced is a menace to taxpayers. 

Many people are unaware that they are unable to win back legal costs at Tribunal, so this bombshell hits them at the very last moment, when they realise that most of the money they fought so hard for, has already gone. 

Then you have unions – some, really good and some – awful. The PCS union for example, as one that I was a member of whilst in the Civil Service, did any and everything they could to avoid providing me with a lawyer. All of the monthly fees contributed towards membership amounted to nothing. This experience is echoed by several union members who simply are not provided with an employment lawyer, for whatever stipulation is asserted in their ‘insurance’ contract with the union. 

Two years – then you can sue 

Another mastermind Government policy is that you are not considered an employee who can bring an employment tribunal claim for unfair dismissal unless you have served at least 1 year and 51 weeks with your employer. 

This means that even if you are bullied, harassed and victimised out of your job, unless this victimisation is as a result of provable discrimination against a protected characteristic – such as sexuality, race, pregnancy, etc… and for very limited circumstances outside of this remit, such as – you are a whistleblower or have been dismissed as a result of trade union activity; you are unable to bring an employment tribunal claim. It doesn’t matter if your boss has micromanaged you, overworked you, teased you or anything else… you…cannot be ‘unfairly dismissed’. Oh and, even if one of those ‘protected characteristics’ is the reason for your dismissal – good luck trying to prove it, especially without any legal knowledge or experience! 

Not long ago, I was speaking to someone at the gym who was telling me about their troubles at work and how they are going through a disciplinary process for something that they did not do. He told me that he intends to “take them to the cleaners” and when I listened to his case, I said to him… 

“Strong case you have there, pal – seems a winner on the victimisation front… Good on you, how long have you been working there for?” 

“Just over a 18 months”

“Ah…Well…”

The look on his face at the realisation that unless he physically lifts his bosses up and takes them to a dry-cleaner – he isn’t taking anybody to the “cleaners”, is something I’ll never forget. It’s the look on many people’s faces when they realise that gaslighting by right-wing press and an erosion of their employment protections has indeed resulted in them not even realising that rights have quite literally been swiped away from under their feet.

Gym bro is a ‘new generation’ millennial fighting against oppressive management styles of the ‘old generation’. The modern worker requires autonomy, flexibility and trust – something that clashes with old leadership styles and risks creating a hostile environment for the modern worker, placing them at risk of bullying and harassment for simply daring to challenge the status quo. However; the reality is that there are slim grounds for a Tribunal claim.

Let’s say gym bro did serve over 2 years…

Know how to write a witness statement? particulars of a claim? log a claim with ACAS? manage timelines associated with ET claims? how to file an ET1? respond to an ET3? identify case-law relevant to your claim? navigate a preliminary hearing?

Yeah, me neither (Well, I do now… But… that’s a different story)

Navigating the Employment Tribunal process is not as easy as booking tickets on Expedia for a flight. Yet, nobody ever teaches you about employment rights and you’re left hung dry, on your own, with a ticking clock counting down the minutes until your claim is inadmissible. This maze in effect means that the Employment Tribunal is not accessible to all and without some understanding of the law and how it works, workers chances narrow further.

The sad thing is… I wish I could say things would change, but the sad reality of Brexit and the kinds of figures in power at the moment only means one thing… Further separation from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and European Regulations on the protections for workers, thus less rights for me, for you…and for your children. 

What it’s like for female couriers who work for Deliveroo, Uber Eats and Stuart

Guest article: Lisa & Maja

A note from the injustice blog:

During the course of my time in the gig economy, I noticed a rise in female couriers taking up the job. Unfortunately, as I suspected, the unique challenges that female gig workers face appear to be unanimous and widespread, with reports of sexual harassment, lack of toilet dignity and a general sense of discomfort.

In fact, the video that I recorded of trying to access the toilets in Five Guys, which caused quite the fuss and ended up on the public freakout page on Reddit, happened – not because I needed the toilet, but because I saw a female colleague in tears who told me that she’s suffering from an infection…and had been refused toilet access at that Five Guys and didn’t know where to go. Fortunately, I pointed her in the direction of a place nearby that isn’t so idiotic. Nevertheless, what a bunch of heartless ****s.

I spoke with a number of female couriers over the past few months and would most certainly say that they’re far more polite, pleasant and patient in nature to the boisterous, testy male counterparts. This, however, means that whilst pushy male colleagues wave their phones 9ft in the air for the attention of restaurant staff, women are left at the back of the queue waiting for orders, without pay.

It appears that no support is provided to female couriers – no signposting to specialist services in the event of gender-specific incidents, no information provided about sexual harassment in the workplace, and no specific way in which to report such harassment.

Very kindly, Lisa (not their real name) and upcoming personal trainer, Maja Nowak have written about their experiences of working in the gig economy as female couriers. Unsurprisingly, both women report similar themes.

What I will end with is this… Guys, please treat your female couriers with the same respect and courtesy as male couriers. They’re out there to work…nothing more.

Sabbir Malik

Lisa:

I have worked part time for both Uber and Deliveroo for a year, and I’m already ready to head in another direction. The army being my current pursuit.

Almost all office jobs come with hourly/yearly pay, yet couriers are subjected to an unpredictable hourly wage. During my (comparatively) short experience, my hourly wage has ranged from £4-£23+ an hour.

As a female courier, I’m naturally greeted by customers preempting the arrival of a male courier, and greeting me with “mate” and “son”. This doesn’t bother me at all, it’s a male dominated sector and even I can’t always tell who’s who! Yet some customers seem embarrassed when they realise I’m a woman, saying “oh, sorry love”. Same as male riders, we’re just doing our job, if you’re polite, we’re happy! So there’s no need to feel awkward… Just don’t be like the guy who screamed at me because the restaurant forgot their prawn crackers!

Other than the disappointment of a poor wage and generally unhelpful companies: Uber being the worst as a result of their exclusively automated “support” and sudden suspension or termination of accounts (I have been suspended for 3 days for marking an order as “damaged”), toilet availability and the public are the only other aspects which affect me directly.

When cycling during summer, and having my face and legs exposed, I know it’s inevitable to receive provocative comments, despite dressing suitably and simply wishing to work. On a working day, comments, whistling, and generally primitive (and frankly embarrassing behaviour) is definitely inbound. When only wanting to work and simply earn money, subjection to verbal abuse in on the bottom of my To-do List.

As for toilets, I have walked into a certain restaurant (rhymes with Nan gos) with a bad nose bleed before -from the heat- and had to request multiple times before they let me clean myself up in the toilet (before I collected my order). In my area, a particular branch of McDonalds is the only place where the toilet is available to use without asking permission from staff – which seems demeaning as an adult.

I want to congratulate those who are full time. I’m called the “the worst part timer” as I have such short patience when waiting for orders. In my area, moped drivers have suddenly become penalised by parking inspectors for simply trying to do their job and waiting in parking bays. I wish anyone reading this success for now and the future.

To conclude: if verbal harassment, working under minimum wage during long hours is something you want to do: become a delivery driver!

Maja:

I was in the process of trying to become a personal trainer, but unfortunately my plans have been put on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic.

I have been working for three courier companies over the last year, including Stuart, Deliveroo and Uber Eats. Of all three I would definitely say Stuart is the best to work for because the pay is a lot better than the other two and Deliveroo comes in at second with the worst being Uber Eats. However, as a woman doing this job there have been challenges that I know male colleagues do not face in this primarily male-dominated industry. These challenges apply to all three companies and no doubt all other courier companies too.

As a fitness freak I use my bicycle to do my work. It was in the first week that I started in April 2020 that an order I received from Uber (who do not tell you where you are going!) I ended up going into a very dangerous estate in the Elephant and Castle area and unfortunately my bike got stolen which left me in tears having to call my flat-mate to come and get me. Did Uber care? No. Did they help me with lost wages? No. Instead I received a standard message saying that they are sorry this happened to me – that is it. That bike was my pride and joy – For those that know bikes well it was a Cannondale CAAD13. I also had a Garmin computer on it. Just leaving it for 20 seconds to deliver the order to the customer it was gone. The police also were useless and closed the case giving me a crime reference number!

To date I am extremely upset about this situation as Uber literally left me over £2000 out of pocket – Any normal employer would have some kind of insurance policy to protect from such things, but not for Uber!

I managed to buy a secondhand cheap Carrera bike just to be able to continue working. But I have hated every moment of it since. My pay ranges between £3 – 7 per hour at most when taking into account all of the hours that I work. This means I need to work extra long hours just to make ends meet.

As a female courier, when I face my monthly cycle… I don’t even work; this is because no restaurant ever allows us to use the toilet, saying that because of the pandemic they are not allowed. This is especially a problem for female couriers because unlike the men out there, we can’t just go on a bush!

The other problem that I face is sexual harassment. So many moped riding men have made inappropriate comments to me when I am waiting to pick an order up. Customers also make so many inappropriate comments and eventually I just wear a really big face mask and big jacket so that I do not get harassed. I don’t even find it flattering, it is degrading and I feel like there is nowhere to turn to or no help provided for female couriers.

I am fortunate now that I have managed to get a new job. I feel that the last almost one year of my life has been misery – nobody cares about couriers rights despite the fact we work so many long hours for so little pay, risking our own health with no social distancing. We are disrespected by restaurants, and as women we are exposed to inappropriate customers, and to top it off…None of the companies care.

Image: Getty

How companies like Deliveroo and Uber Eats have infested our roads with 40% of their couriers uninsured

Firstly, I want to make clear that this article is not a criticism of hard-working couriers who are lawfully out there, abiding by the rules of the road and trying to earn a decent living. It’s a criticism of the companies who have opened the can of worms to allow the practices I’m about to explore, to happen…

Putting aside the whizzing pedal cyclist determined to get to their next job by cycling on pavements, failing to consider other road users, ignoring traffic lights and a personal bugbear of mine – failing to adequately consider their own safety by cycling without appropriate lighting and visibility… The rise of the gig economy has done something even more drastic… 

Infested our roads with uninsured motorcyclists, moped riders and cars. 

To deliver for gig economy companies like Deliveroo, Just Eat, Stuart and Uber, motorists must have adequate ‘hire + reward’ insurance in place. Just having Social Domestic and Pleasure (SDP), Commuting or any kind of regular Business insurance renders the driver’s policy void, thus leading to them driving around uninsured. I am aware of reports that a court has determined Business insurance to be adequate coverage, but have no confirmed source of this.

There are very limited options available when it comes to hire + reward insurance. For car drivers, there is ‘insurance revolution’, ‘acorn’ and perhaps a handful of other providers that offer adequate coverage. There are a few more available for moped riders.

Tech start-up ZEGO launched in 2016 with an aim to cover the gap in this market and provide both flexible pay-as-you-go insurance as well as 30-day or 365 day policies. Underwritten by the likes of RSA, this company is the only option available to a majority of couriers.

However, for me, my regular car insurance costs in the region of £750 when taking into account my age and 13 years of no claims discount applied. 

A quotation with ‘insurance revolution’ brings this total to over £3,800. Acorn quoted me just over £2,900 and ZEGO quoted me pretty much the same for an annual policy. 

This is a whooping 286% increase to my annual insurance premiums if I opt to go for annual cover.

Instead, as I worked part-time, I opted for a pay-as-you-go policy at £1.75 per hour, which digitally activates once I start courier work. However, after nine months, I have now come to realise that I may well have been driving around with an absolutely worthless and super expensive policy that I have paid well over £2,000 for that may have been invaliding my existing motor insurance policy all along.

ZEGO claim on their website that “Some Social, Domestic and Pleasure insurance providers make the commercial decision to not allow you to purchase your Hire and Reward policy elsewhere if you have SD&P with them. This is a commercial decision by the individual insurance company. Please check your SD&P Terms and Conditions if you would like further details.” 

However, they also state on their website in 2019 that “in March 2018, the Motor Insurers’ Bureau (MIB), the official authority for motor insurance in the UK, acknowledged top up or short term cover as a valid form of insurance” below an underlined title “Top up insurance is recognised by the motor insurance authority and is 100% legal”

It is only the latter that I saw when taking out a policy with ZEGO, with the former only coming to my attention when researching this subject. 

I’m yet to contact both insurance companies that I’ve been with whilst simultaneously holding a ZEGO policy, but if it is the case that the ZEGO policy has been unfit for purpose, am I – and the countless other ZEGO pay-as-you-go users, entitled to a refund? Have we been driving uninsured? What is our legal position? These are all questions that need to be answered. 

The “bicyclist” that turns up as a car, moped or motorbike rider

We then come to the genuinely dodgy gig economy couriers.

A few weeks ago, I put up a poll on Reddit asking whether I should or should not report a courier who claimed to be a bicycle on their Uber Eats profile but turned up on a scooter – as in, the moped variety. 

This poll was purposely designed to harvest views as opposed to actually cement my position – that, I had already decided. 

It was an interesting mix of feedback. Of 99 votes, 60 people told me to “Report” and 39 told me not to. This kind of ties in with a little something below about 60/40. 

One user commented “It goes without question to report. If there’s votes for Nay then you’re potentially taking votes from those who take advantage” whilst in contrast, another said “Can’t believe you reported someone trying to make a living, how lame […] Me and my friends do it the legit way but we’d never report someone trying to make a living in a pandemic”. The funniest comment was “No one likes a snitch. You’re the type to go crying to the cops when anything bad happens to you smh”“Yeah, absolutely. Who else will I go to?” 

Subsequently, between four friends and three family members, we spent three weeks keeping a track of ‘who turns up’ for our Uber Eats orders (In hindsight, I wish I had done some Deliveroo ones too – but hey, live and learn – perhaps a news outlet with a budget can step in!).

Our findings are as follows: Out of 40 orders: 

16 ‘bicycles’ turned up as either mopeds or cars 

3 orders turned up as a genuine bicycle 

21 orders turned up as a genuine moped or car 

From this survey of 40 orders, that means 40% of these couriers may be uninsured, with only 60% of couriers arriving in a genuine transportation mode as reported on the app. 

This survey doesn’t necessarily conclude the extent of the problem, rather, highlights from a cohort of 40 orders that the problem does indeed exist. 

On one occasion, I reported to Uber Eats that a male arrived on a moped, the registration to which is different to the female Uber Eats courier’s account. The response I received was: 

Uber Eats response to reporting a rider that doesn’t match the photo nor vehicle registration

Okay, so… What happens when I report a cyclist turning up in a car? 

Uber Eats response to reporting the wrong vehicle

No additional information was cascaded to me from Uber about these complaints

“No parking at any time” 

Let’s now turn to the row of mopeds that infest our red-routes, making it unsafe for cyclists to use bicycle lanes. These are generally parked opposite a McDonald’s, Five Guys, KFC, Deliveroo cloud kitchen “editions”, or other restaurant hotspot.

Clapham Common, just outside McDonald’s and Five Guys is particularly problematic, as is the A24 opposite McDonald’s in Balham. 

Despite there being a 24 hour restriction, except 7am – 7pm loading for 20 minutes, at dinner time (post 7pm) and beyond, there we have it – rows of mopeds. 

Now, my views on this are quite mixed. On one hand, it’s illegal, but on the other – I’m not a fan of these 24 hour red route restrictions either. 

Nevertheless, and even leaving aside the social nuisance of the problem, the point still stands that based on my above calculation that about 40% of gig economy couriers are uninsured, this means that there are far too many uninsured mopeds infesting our roads, creating a hazard for all to bear. 

To conclude… based on my own little study of the above, combined with an ethnographic view of the situation… there are roughly, at the least, 40% of gig economy couriers riding uninsured. 

Though, who can blame them? – The exorbitantly high insurance rates of between 200-400% above regular insurance costs, combined with, as I reported in my last article, pay of around £3-5 per hour as well as tight restrictions on suitability for hire + reward policies (age, claims history, etc.) …leads inevitably to uninsured cheats, with the genuinely insured couriers to become the ones that are truly out of pocket.

And of course, the ZEGO issue remains outstanding…

Ultimately though, why are these gig economy companies not providing adequate insurance cover to their couriers? Why should couriers, that are earning dangerously low amounts of money below minimum wage have to fork out and pay from the very little that they do earn, to the likes of yet another company, such as ZEGO, that takes from the worker?

Furthermore, this unfair playing field creates a problem for the genuine workers too… the cyclists who are disadvantaged by car and moped ‘bicycles’ that suck up all the orders.

When working for the likes of BT, British Gas, Virgin Media, the AA, RAC, etc… workers aren’t expected to pay for their motoring insurance… Why are couriers any different? – Well, it goes to the heart of the exploitative model that is… The gig economy.

I contacted both Deliveroo and Uber Eats. 

An Uber Eats spokeswoman said “Uber Eats takes this matter very seriously. We use technology and robust audits to verify the type of vehicle being used and to confirm that all couriers hold the legally required insurance. Any courier who does not meet the relevant legal requirements will not have access to the app.”

Uber also reiterated:

  • It is required by law for motor vehicle owners to hold insurance for their motorbikes / scooters / cars. 
  • It is compulsory for couriers who make deliveries via the Uber Eats app using motor vehicles to have the correct insurance for delivery. 
  • We constantly monitor insurance documents provided by couriers and any courier whose insurance has expired or is invalid will lose access to the app. 
  • Uber Eats has processes in place to detect and act when it appears that a courier is using a different vehicle to the one that they have registered with us, and we regularly review, evaluate and improve this technology. 
  • For bicycle couriers (who do not have a legal insurance obligation) we provide €1M third party liability insurance cover from AXA, at no cost.
  • Holding a provisional licence and having a completed CBT enables a user to legally use a moped or motorcycle on the road.  We require couriers to upload their CBT certificate to the Uber Eat app, and a courier whose CBT certificate expires will lose access to the app until they upload an up-to-date certificate or a full driving licence. 
  • We provide all couriers with educational safety information when they onboard with Uber Eats.
  • All couriers are required to have passed a right to work check and criminal background check in the UK irrespective of their choice of vehicle.

On the right of substitution, please find the information here.

Deliveroo did not reply.

Sabbir Malik

Working for nine months in the gig economy with Deliveroo and Uber as a human rights advocate – my report

I wrote this article on 18 February 2021, but with the knowledge that there is an upcoming decision at the Supreme Court against Uber… I waited until publication, just so that I can end with my views and comments on the landmark 19 February 2021 ruling, particularly as there will undoubtedly be ramifications for the whole of the gig economy. 

During the course of 2020, hardships have led to drastic changes in our lives. For me, in addition to advocacy and social research work, I decided to take up some part-time work for food courier services Deliveroo and Uber Eats. It fit well around my schedule, I enjoyed being out and about, and I needed the extra cash to clear some credit cards. 

What a turbulent experience it has been. 

Part of the gig economy, these app based delivery companies rely on independent, so-called “self-employed” couriers who, like me, are guaranteed no income, provided no employment rights, as well as no sick-pay benefits, duty of care nor annual leave.

For me – that was fine at first. This was a part time thing and a way to earn a little extra. 

For others, however, the story is incredibly different. Hefty mortgages to pay off, the responsibility of children and relying entirely upon these app based services for their income. 

I’ve met many fellow couriers along the way; one a qualified pilot, a PhD Neurology candidate, a semi-professional football player, an actor who performs for a well known West-End musical as well as hundreds of South East Asian, African, South American and Eastern European men and women who rely on these companies for their income due to their circumstances in being unable to find employment elsewhere, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

I’ve earned a gross income of just over £12,000 doing courier work part-time in the nine months that I’ve been doing it. I’ve made some great friendships with restauranteurs and fellow couriers, seen parts of London I’ve never been to before and have been able to stay financially afloat (just about). 

Some evenings, for four-five hours of work, I could find myself with £80-90, sometimes earning about £20 per hour. 

However, upon reflection of the past nine months, the reality for most, including even me for five months where I became ‘financially dependent’ on these apps , is that…

Pay…

With an influx of new riders joining these courier platforms, in-particularly due to loss of employment through the pandemic, existing riders have found their workload significantly reduced. Because the business model that these companies use is by selling the dream of “owning your very own little independent business and be self-employed and flexible”, they’ve gotten away with using precarious contracts to avoid paying workers a minimum wage and providing these workers with basic employment rights including sick-pay and annual leave. 

On average, during Sunday – Thursday, riders typically get paid about £3 – 5 per order, dependent on distance. 

There are ‘peak hour boosts’, generally reserved for weekends where a multiplier of between “1.1 – 1.5+” is applied, essentially giving riders the opportunity to collect peak hour orders at 10-50% above the base pay. 

However, the catch 22 situation is that, at peak hours – restaurants are so busy, the wait times significantly increase thus limiting the number of jobs a rider is able to complete. 

I initially started this work whilst seeking alternative full-time employment as a secondary income source. However, out of my nine months, five of them actually became a situation of reliance for income on these services as a job offer that was made to me was withdrawn, putting me back into a job-seeking position. 

In August, Eat Out to Help Out significantly reduced my earnings due to a drastic reduction in customers as people headed out to Eat Out and catch Corona (without a lime). Looking back at my hours and earnings in August 2020, I’ve calculated that my net pay, after costs, working on average 45 hours per week throughout August equates to just £4.93 per hour. This is £3.79 under the National Minimum Wage and a majority of the money that I did make that month was during peak-hours. 

My pay would probably be at least £1-2 below £4.93 per hour. I put that £4.93 down to a thorough knowledge of something all riders need to get to grips with quite quickly, because… 

…unless you know the restaurants to avoid… 

… Wait times

Some restaurants… are gems. They’ll have your order ready for you, on time, and let you get on with it. This means that you go to the restaurant, pick the assigned order up and be on your way. Within 5-10 minutes, you’ve earned £4. If this happens consistently for about 4-5 orders, things can be okay, with earnings of about £10 – 15 per hour (generally at peak times only!). 

On the other hand, some restaurant chains can be very problematic, McDonald’s being a prime example. Uber Eats and Just Eat couriers will line up for about 20-40 minutes, come face-to-face with an overworked McDonald’s employee who will eventually hand the order over, leading the rider to be marked with a ‘thumbs down’ from the end customer all for the trouble of £3.20 gross and once fuel and insurance costs are taken into account, about…£1.50 for the hour. The Uber driver is stressed from no pay for waiting, the McDonald’s employee is overworked due to an influx of orders and the end customer receives soggy chips. Everybody’s unhappy… Except for Uber.

Taken on a rainy January Saturday (2°C, McDonald’s Tooting. The queue extended further. The courier at the end of the queue will probably be waiting 45 minutes for a £4.50 order.

So, lucrative?… 

Friday and Saturday and sometimes Sunday nights are the busiest… Generally at dinner time. Like I mentioned above, I earned often between £15-20+ per hour. When these rare occasions happen, I’m celebrating as though I’m on my way to becoming a millionaire (with the benefit of hindsight, what an utter joke!)

What does this really equate to? 

… Come to think of things: 

I work for say, £15 per hour and that will only really work for 9 hours of the week. 

That means, I’m earning £135 for 9 hours of work. 

Minus fuel and specialist insurance costs with the ONLY insurer that offers pay-as-you-go ‘hire and reward’ insurance, Zego, and that brings my earnings down to about £90 for 9 hours of work, a mere £1.28 above the national minimum wage… for working during peak hours… on the weekends, when I could be at home enjoying Netflix and playing fetch with my dog?

Then, a few months in, I notice that my tyre treads have worn down significantly, costing £580 to replace; TfL have decided to invoice me for photographs of my car parked on red routes that have been changed due to the addition of bicycle lanes without appropriate signage to indicate the change; my car service indicator light turned on way sooner than expected and I even managed to kerb my diamond cut alloy wheels because of a super-tight alleyway entrance to a Deliveroo ‘cloud kitchen’. 

Sadiq, whilst I know it’s not entirely your fault, the 7-day per week Congestion charging zone has also been an absolute income loser for me, particularly when operating on Uber Eats with whom for the life of me I cannot understand why, just don’t tell the courier where they’re heading to. I’ve found myself constantly an additional £15 per day down, just to deliver a £4.50 order to a Congestion charging zone area. 

So not quite lucrative then… So, what about…

…Customers and tips?

Well, most customers are very friendly and pleasant to deal with. However, with London being how London is, there are a lot of new development blocks with about six security gates to go through as well as five lifts. The worst is unarguably the Vauxhall area – my arch nemesis. Another area that I detest is the Battersea area – Smugglers’ Way, Battersea Reach; these are all areas that are an absolute nightmare to get to and the time spent parking and trying to find the right building keeps the clock ticking but no extra pay is given for this. Uber is particularly problematic as, until now (for some riders), you have no idea that you’re heading into one of these areas. 

Oh and, yes…these also happen to be the customers that don’t tip. 

American customers, I love you. I really do…there has not been a single American customer that I’ve delivered to where a tip isn’t included. This doesn’t mean I no longer find the American tipping system absolutely ludicrous – it’s that, for food delivery couriers in the States, money can be made and it can be made well because the food and hospitality economy has been built on the ridiculous exploitation of the most poor, by the rich, who are able to utilise labour when needed and keep on hold an employee, without pay, for times that they are not needed. This is essentially the gig economy business model, the difference being that in the States, the general public are aware of this system and substitute workers’ pay…with tips.

In Britain, the general public simply have no idea how these couriers work and what their base income is, thus leading to a majority of the British public opting not to tip their courier, under the belief that they’re ‘earning enough’ or ‘must be receiving minimum wage’. It’s an easy mistake to make… Because, surely… the Government haven’t dropped our core principles in this country of Employment Rights and protections for all, to allow exploitative billionaires to set up a smart phone app to exploit the very people these employment protections exist to protect?! Surely not…

…Well, yes, this is exactly what has happened, evidenced even by one customer who commented to me, “Wow, a new Audi, Deliveroo are treating you good man!” – … I really wish pal, it’s my own car that’s costing £500 per month that I’m working my arse off just to be able to pay off! 

For Deliveroo, the morning alcoholics are an interesting bunch – Deliveroo’s stringent and bizarre ID policy mandates requesting to see ID from EVERY SINGLE CUSTOMER, even if they’re 90 years old. The problem is, most couriers don’t abide by this and just ask the customer for their date of birth. Then, poor old me (or another rule abiding courier) goes to deliver four cans of Carling and a bottle of Smirnoff at 11am in the morning and an angry beer-bellied bloke starts to throw a tantrum once asked for ID. What do Deliveroo rider support do? – 

“You can deliver it anyway rider”

… “Okay, are you sure?” 

“Yes… you can deliver it, no problem?”

Okay then…

*knock knock knock* “On this occasion, Deliveroo rider support have said I can deliver this to you”

“Yeah, that’s right you f***ing pr**k, c**t” whilst a heavy door is slammed right into my foot.

10 minutes later… I write a lengthy e-mail to Deliveroo, explaining what happened. 

One week later, “We’ve sorry this has happened”

“Okay, thanks for your apology, but what have you done?”

“We’ve taken action” 

Two days later… an order pops up, with the same address from the same store. 

Thanks, Deliveroo. 

And so this brings me to…

…Restaurants

There’s the ‘OK’, the ‘Good’, ‘the REALLY good” the ‘Bad’ and the outright… “F*** NO am I going there!” 

The “OK” 

These are the restaurants that won’t interact much with you, may make you wait about 5 minutes for an order, but generally are OK to accept an order from. However, even these can have their problems, such as Meat Liquor, where demand soars because of Uber’s inability to manage orders appropriately:

Meat Liquor, Clapham (Northcote Road) on a Saturday at 8pm. Some couriers were waiting well in excess of 45 minutes. Uber has the technology to turn off a restaurant once they’re over capacity… Why don’t they use it?

The “GOOD” 

Your order is ready, the manager greets you with a “Hello”, says “Thank you” to you and will smile at you.

“The really good”

One time, I was having a really bad day and upon going to pick up an order at ‘Top Taste’, a Caribbean restaurant in Wandsworth, the guy behind the till said to me “Brother, listen… This is for you” and handed me a bag… along with another bag that contained the order I was collecting. I asked him “Sorry, is this both for the customer”… “No…This one my brother, is for you”.

He might not know it, but when I returned to my car, that one act of generosity almost brought a tear to my eye. I was actually hungry that day and felt really down about an interaction earlier that day when Karen decided to shout at me for being 5 minutes late. I worked for about 10 hours, it was a quiet day and my earnings were only about £49 during that entire 10 hour period (- £1.75 per hour for insurance costs and about £9 for fuel, my earnings were…hmm… £22.50, so, just over £2 per hour) 

“The BAD”

Burger King, KFC, McDonald’s, Five Guys etc… The thing is… I’m not blaming the staff at these stores. Lack of training on aspects such as health & safety law, overworked employees and excessive demand has created friction between both riders and restaurant workers, where arguments are frequent amidst rising tensions. The solution is pretty simple – stop accepting customer orders, but of course – this means less money for the likes of Deliveroo and Uber.

“The F*** NO am I going there” 

My biggest no-way am I going there are Deliveroo’s ‘cloud kitchens’. The reality of accepting a job from one of these places is that you’ll be waiting excessive times with no pay, amongst a cloud of cannabis fumes and no social distancing. Here’s 29 Lydden Road, in Earlsfield, South London and the reality of what your rider is going through when you order from various ‘Deliveroo Editions’ kitchens:

Taken on a wet Friday evening in January at about 8pm. Numerous restaurants, including Honest Burgers, Tinseltown, Wasabi and others operate from this kitchen

But there are also the contemptuous independents too. There was a time that a very serious incident occurred in August 2020 during Rishi’s Eat out to Help Out where I found myself kidnapped by a restaurant manager who refused to hand over an order unless I went to the back of his restaurant, which was impossible due to roadworks. When I went back in to the store to collect the order and explain that “there’s literally a bunch of workmen blocking the alley”, he started shouting at me and telling me to leave, all whilst I was simply trying to explain that I was collecting an order and can’t go to the back. He decided to lock me in to the restaurant and call the police to tell them I won’t leave. The hilarious YouTube video I uploaded recently of the incident shares a beautiful moment of the 999 operator telling the man “how is he supposed to leave if you’ve locked him in sir”. This happened at a restaurant called Indian Room in Balham.

Again, I reported this restaurant to Deliveroo and shared the video footage of the incident. 

What happened? – As far as I see, ‘Indian Room, Balham’ remains very much an option on the platform. 

At a restaurant called Gourmet 2, where I had spent at least over £1,000 over the past few years as a customer and spent at least £140 in 2020 alone; feeling that I had a degree of loyalty and would be respected; entering there as a delivery driver, things changed drastically. I was sworn at, humiliated in front of customers and shouted at to leave. What action did Uber Eats take? – I don’t know. I still see that the restaurant remains on the platform. Why did this incident (which is up on YouTube) happen?… Because I wanted to just simply use the…

Toilet…

Now, I don’t want to go into things in too much detail, but I have a genuine medical condition that requires immediate use of the toilet at any time. It’s much to do with my anxiety disorder, which I’ve spoken about before on my blog. 

Toilet access, rather lack of, has perhaps been my biggest problem with gig economy work and one that caused me to find myself dubbed ‘Toilet Man’ as I began a campaign of stinging restaurants who I know refuse access to toilet facilities for delivery drivers, despite it being a legal requirement. I’ve hit a few restaurants, but things can get dangerous and heated very quickly – after all, nobody really gives a toss about a delivery driver. Unfortunately, the reality is that over 95% of restaurants just will not let you use the toilet, despite it being a legal requirement and reiterated by the Health and Safety Executive last year. This is in particular problematic for those with bowel and bladder conditions, and also, women – for whom the possibility of taking a leak on a bush isn’t possible and monthly cycles can turn up at any time.

You can read more about my ‘Toilet Man’ experience on my last article… It’s what I became incredibly passionate about and continue the fight for other couriers, having now taken it all the way to the appropriate Government ministers to respond to, but ultimately, Toilet Man is the straw that finally broke the camel’s back. 

After an incident that occurred with a restaurant on Lavender Hill in Clapham Junction called ‘Pasta Evangelists’ / Sapori, where I was physically pushed out of the store for asking for my order and to use a toilet… had the police called on me because the owner didn’t want me using the toilet…and faced the threat of arrest from the police who decided to take the side of the restaurant, of whom a staff member picked up a broomstick to try and come and attack me with it… I felt, enough is enough.

So, it’s time to conclude… and I’ll end this article discussing my final thoughts as well as my thoughts on The Supreme Court Ruling against Uber on the 19th of February 2021. 

For some, as an income top-up, taking advantage of these app based delivery services can be a good way to earn some extra cash over the weekend. However, this means working no more than about 10 hours per week on Friday, Saturday and sometimes Sunday nights, and importantly – being okay with the risk of coming home earning nothing. 

However, the reality for most riders out there is that they are doing the job as a primary source of income. They are the ones that when calculating their actual time worked are earning a mere £3-5 per hour after expenses. 

Yes, not all of them, and some are fortunate enough to be able to earn much more, but the cold and hard reality of it is that ‘high-earners’ in the gig economy are an exception to the norm rather than the norm itself. 

My experience with gig economy work has been an interesting one. I’m a UCL graduate having only ever worked decent salaried jobs with all kinds of perks and benefits. Now though, I’ve seen what it feels like to be quite literally at the bottom of the societal pile. Working long-hours for companies backed by wealthy billionaire investors who benefit from your time and hard-work, but are unwilling to pay a decent wage for the hours that are actually worked.

It’s a business model that is entirely engineered to exploit and an absence of regulation has only been because the government are able to add the 5+ million workers in the UK to their list of “employed”, boasting “record levels of employment”. 

These exploitative enterprises exist solely for one purpose and one purpose only… to destruct. They are disruptive technologies that have infiltrated the economy so hard that for a restaurant to survive without using their technology is near to impossible. They operate ‘cloud kitchens’ which have become a social nuisance to dish out cheap food to customers who believe they are ordering from actual restaurants. They care not for their existing riders and drivers, continuing to add more and more people to their platform so that the end-user experience is a positive one, but the experience for workers becomes an untenable one.  

So, as Lord Leggatt handed his verdict down yesterday… My thoughts really did turn to the couriers who will think “oh no, this is terrible, my livelihood will be destroyed”… I understand that sentiment and that’s because, this is what the gig economy has done to this country. It’s embedded itself so deep within that it has now become the master to whom reliance has become an inevitability. 

However, for the long-term, our economy needs to recover from this exploitation. This was never a sustainable model, it was an exploitative one. These companies don’t care about rider welfare – if they did, they wouldn’t operate in the way they do. Uber, for example, during the recent sub-zero temperatures and icy conditions, incentivised their riders by dangling an offer of £10 to complete a ‘quest’ – an unrealistic amount of orders within a set time, leading to desperate riders speeding, breaking rules of the road and risking their lives… for a tenner. These companies have a just one interest, and that is – money, and they care not from whom they get it.

So, thank you… Lord Leggatt and fellow Justices, for finally calling these companies out on their bulls**t. 

Deliveroo, Uber and Just Eat couriers… Claim your 12%+ of annual leave pay. Make sure that you exercise your right to be identified as a worker and welcome this Supreme Court ruling as the beginning of a new chapter in your life… one where your basic, fundamental rights…are respected.

I’ll end with some food for thought… does everything I’ve revealed here mean that I’m asking for customers to stop using these apps?

Well… I don’t know, because the truth of the situation is that, boycotting these apps means putting people out of jobs… but at the same time, using these apps means a passive acceptance of pure exploitation.

And that’s exactly what these apps have done to us as a society – destroyed us – from the very core.

Sabbir Malik

Goodbye Deliveroo… Sincerely, Toilet Man.

Hi, I’m Toilet Man.

For the past two months, I have been taking a stand against restaurants and takeaways who violate health and safety law. Specifically, Regulations 20 & 21 of the Workplace (Health and Safety) Regulations 1992, which stipulates that restaurants who provide a delivery service must provide access to toilet facilities, cold water and soap to any delivery courier who conducts any work for them. However, despite a joint letter by the Chief Executive of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport reiterating the legal requirement and even stipulating further that due to COVID-19, the regulations are even more important, restaurants have continued to violate the regulations. This is despite reminders from Deliveroo (who claim to have sent reminders to restaurants).

This has led to stories – obviously by the Sun about a ‘grotty Uber Eats driver’ taking a poo outside and another recent story about a ‘Deliverpoo driver’ taking a poo at the side of a business.

Well, if restaurants are failing to abide by the rules; the Health and Safety Executive isn’t enforcing the rules; Deliveroo and Uber Eats and Just Eat appear to take no enforcement action… as the saying goes “if you got-to go, you got-to go”

As somebody with a genuine medical condition that may require the use of a toilet at any time and being a holder of a bowel & bladder society card and radar key, working for Deliveroo for the past nine months has been a serious challenge for me.

Eventually, I had enough of being denied access to the toilet, with scrupulous restaurants claiming that because of COVID, they’re not allowing anybody in. Yet, they’re happy to accept the services of delivery couriers and benefit from the only business that they’re able to undertake.  

I started to take video recordings of restaurants who deny me access to the toilet. In fact, in most of these videos, I don’t actually need the toilet at all, it’s after hearing of somebody else being refused access that I go in to intervene. 

It started with a branch of KFC in Clapham Junction. They not only denied access, they started to ignore me, refused to hand over the order and I was left embarrassed in front of other riders.   

KFC isn’t an isolated incident. In total, I’ve sent over 20 letters of complaint to restaurants and head-offices of chain stores. There are some that I won’t mention, but others include:

  • Gourmet 2 Restaurant in Tooting Bec. Things got pretty heated. Here is the video
  • Burger King, Balham. Here is the video
  • Franco Manca, Northcote Road. Here is the video

Of the incidents above:

  • Gourmet 2, part of the ‘AYA’ chain, refused to respond to my complaint. Instead, Wandsworth Council issued them a warning.
  • Burger King head office said that they will remind all franchisees of their legal duty.
  • Franco Manca’s press team said that this was ‘human error’ and that allowing delivery drivers toilet usage is in their risk assessment and they are sorry.

I have also complained about:

  • Camile Thai, Tooting Bec – They say that their toilet was ‘out of order’ that day and they don’t allow riders to use staff toilets.
  • Haché Burgers, Balham – This was the best apology I received, the operations director was genuinely apologetic and this was down to a misunderstanding by the manager, who also offered an apology.
  • KFC, Clapham Junction – The KFC care squad apologised and even offered me a £15 voucher. However, I received an (unverified) report from another rider that a week later, they still refused toilet access.

During the course of my campaign I’ve been abused, sworn at, threatened, and even assaulted. This in-particular happened at Gourmet 2

My most memorable day has got to be FIVE GUYS and my experience there. The branch in Clapham Common gained me the title of ‘TOILET MAN’ on Reddit…and I like that, it has an edge to it!

There’s also another reason why my FIVE GUYS experience was particularly awful. It’s where, the previous month, I was called “Oi Deliveroo boy” by a manager because I was trying to stand underneath the store, away from the rain. I was then assaulted by the security guard (the same one who dealt with the toilet refusal) as he tried to grab my phone out of my hand and push me. 

Yesterday (on the 17th of February 2021) a sting turned pretty nasty. There’s a restaurant called ‘SAPORA’ located in Lavender Hill. On Deliveroo, they trade as ‘Pasta Evangelists’. Again, to test whether they’ll let me use the toilet, I asked… but this time… was pushed out of the store, had a door pushed into me which caused me to lose balance and then, to top everything off… the store manager called the police to claim that I was being aggressive. 

You all know from my first article on this blog that my relationship with the police is somewhat…meh…

And so, yes, I’ve made a complaint to the police…and I’ve made a complaint to Deliveroo, but… from that, I decided that today, I’m going to hang up the turquoise jacket and start to focus on what matters most… my day job, my campaign for justice, equality and human rights…and of course, my little pooch. This video is available to view here

It reminded me of the time that a restaurant called ‘Indian Room’ kidnapped me and held me against my will… (no, seriously). Check this out

However, there is some good news about the ‘FIVE GUYS incident’ day… Later that evening, I was assigned an order to a restaurant called beWYLD in Streatham. I hadn’t been there before, but… the owner pretty much restored my faith in humanity…

Toilet man, was finally able to use the toilet. 

And with that…

Toilet Man, signing off Deliveroo… for good. 

But, this is a human rights campaign, and I’m not going to let my fellow riders – friends, sisters and brothers… be left alone. I’ve created a petition on the Parliament website which is going through a review stage at the moment, urging the Government to provide more powers to the HSE and local authorities to enforce this situation.

I’ve also written to the HSE Chief Executive’s office as well as to Will Shu, CEO of Deliveroo and created a change.org petition, hoping to gain some momentum on this issue.

And of course, I’ve created a little template letter and some advice below for my fellow riders to use.

If you’re a food delivery courier and have been refused access, use this letter to complain to the restaurant concerned. If you e-mail the company, copy in “will@deliveroo.co.uk” or “dara@uber.com” or “jitse.groen@takeaway.com” (Just Eat).

Also copy in the Chief Executive of the HSE “sarah.albon@hse.gov.uk”

Dear Sir / Madam,  

Re:  Breach of Health and Safety Law

I am writing to you to raise an issue about: [Insert store name here]

On [Date], whilst on shift with [Deliveroo / Just Eat / Uber Eats], at approximately [time] hours, I was allocated a delivery with the above branch. 

Upon entering the store, I identified myself as a courier and asked for access to the toilet, which was refused. I was in desperate situation and required immediate access to the toilet and hand-washing facilities, which you are legally obliged to provide.   

**[Explain anything else that happened / names / details of staff / confrontation / etc…]**

You will no doubt be aware of a joint letter produced by the Health and Safety Executive and DFT as published here:

Click to access dft-hse-letter-drivers-facilities.pdf

Access to use of toilet and water facilities is a fundamental human right. Furthermore, you are legally obligated under Regulations 20 and 21 of the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 to provide easy and safe access to toilets and hand washing facilities to couriers as indicated on the above HSE and DFT joint letter. The Coronavirus pandemic does NOT exempt you from this obligation and in fact, refusing to provide access during this time is an aggravating factor as highlighted in the DFT and HSE letter as cited above. 

Your store has flagrantly disregarded the law and your staff have demonstrated scant regard towards delivery couriers to which your business relies upon. You will also be aware that Deliveroo have notified you on numerous occasions your legal obligation in various letters to you, as confirmed by them. I will therefore be reporting this matter to [Deliveroo [or UE/JE] as well as to the local authority public health department. 

Breaching basic Health and Safety guidance is not only unlawful but places me and the health and safety of the public at significant risk. 

Furthermore, by cancelling an order, you have also delayed the delivery for a waiting customer. *[if applicable]

I would like an apology as well as formal acknowledgement that you intend to remind ALL of your stores in the UK of their legal requirements under the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, to provide suitable toilet and hand washing facilities to drivers visiting their premises. 

I look forward to your prompt response on this matter. I would like to keep a complete record of this case, so please reply to this email address.

Yours faithfully,  

*Rider Name*

Independent Courier   

Then, my suggestion is to report it to the local council. The best way to do this is to find out what local council is responsible. Firstly, head over to www.scoresonthedoors.org.uk and search for the restaurant. The website will tell you which local authority is responsible for that restaurant.

Then, Google “local authority name // health and safety” and make a complaint from there. Here’s a template letter you can use for your complaint:

Dear Sir / Madam,  

Re:  Breach of Health and Safety Law

I am writing to you to raise an issue about: [Insert store name here] which is located in your authority area. The address of the restaurant is [Insert store address]

On [Date], whilst on shift with [Deliveroo / Just Eat / Uber Eats], at approximately [time] hours, I was allocated a delivery with the above branch. 

Upon entering the store, I identified myself as a courier and asked for access to the toilet, which was refused. I was in desperate situation and required immediate access to the toilet and hand-washing facilities, which, as you know, they are legally obliged to provide under Regulations 20 and 21 of the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992.

[if applicable] This incident has left me feeling…

[if applicable] This is not the first time…

I look forward to your prompt response on this matter and for immediate enforcement action to take place.

Yours faithfully,  

*Rider Name*

If you can and have the time to do it – search for the relevant Cabinet Members and Councillors for that council area and copy them into the e-mail.

And on that note, please don’t forget to sign my change.org petition.

Ride safe fellow riders.

Toilet Man…

…rather, Sabbir Malik – human rights, diversity, equality & legal activist.

How you can support an employee with a mental health illness

A perspective from someone who suffers from major depressive and anxiety disorder

According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, one in five people become depressed at some point in their lives. 

Yet, despite more understanding of late, depression still remains one of the most stigmatised and least understood ‘common’ illnesses to exist. Many people believe depression to be trivial, and something that one can simply ‘snap out of’. Depression is associated as a ‘weakness’ as opposed to what it really is, which is: a real illness, with real symptoms. 

Let’s understand depression a bit more… 

The main reason why mental health and particularly depression is a subject close to heart for me is because I suffer from depression and anxiety disorder. I have done for many years. It’s something I used to speak to very few people about and had to contend with alone for most of my life. 

When I first started suffering from breakdowns and episodes, I felt far too embarrassed to speak with anybody. I did not feel as though I would be understood, nor did I think of about the benefits of asking for help. In fact, my depression inevitably always leads me to genuinely believe myself to be a burden – even to healthcare professionals, and therefore unworthy of support. 

When my symptoms first started I felt as though a large part of me was absent and eventually I became consumed in negative thoughts and feelings. It started to interfere profusely with my everyday life to a point where I eventually broke to a point of needing psychiatric help. I was in my mid-teens at the time. 

For four years, I was in and out of psychiatric care. Weekly meetings with the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS), special needs during secondary school and countless medications. So I guess I could say “I’ve been there and done that”. However, despite all of this, the most important thing of all was absent. The absence of feeling that I am still ‘normal’. It’s the stigma and the horrible things associated to the notion of depression that halted my recovery for so many years. 

The common misconception about depression and depressed people is that they are mentally unstable therefore, not normal – or at least that’s certainly what I and so many others facing depression feel. 

One thing I never understood though is, it’s normal for people to catch the flu. If someone has cancer, they have their entire group of friends, family and everyone else in the community praying for their recovery, or if someone breaks their arm, everyone rushes to sign their cast. Yet, when it comes to depression, people turn a blind eye; they walk away. The same applies to other mental health conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, anorexia, psychosis and personality disorders. What we need to understand as a society is that these are illnesses just as much as the flu is.  

I still struggle with depressive episodes to date and whilst I’ve in large part overcome my fear of speaking out about it, I can’t deny that it does make me feel embarrassed to do so. The weird thing is that I’m not necessarily  depressed because everything in my life is going bad. No, quite the opposite – My life could actually be going very well, yet it’s this imbalance in my mind that causes depressive episodes every now and again and it’s something I can’t control and it’s feelings that I can’t help but feel. 

Fortunately, I’ve learnt very well how to manage my illness compared to others that suffer. This is only because I’ve had many years to learn how best to deal with it. I’ve disassociated depression with societal ignorance, I understand that it is a normal illness. I’ve accepted, and learnt in most part to live with it (with the caveat that, during my next depressive episode, this will in most part be forgotten). 

Many sufferers of long-term depression will tell you the same thing; they can’t help feeling the way they do. Depression doesn’t necessarily even occur as a result of ‘being sad’ about something. Sadness is associated with bereavement, getting over a relationship or feeling a sadness because something bad has happened. Sufferers of depression often feel sad and trapped in their own negative thoughts even when everything in their life is okay. Comedians are a huge example of this. You just have to google the words ‘comedian depression’ to see an endless list of hilarious entertainers that suffer from depressive disorders. 

Implementing mental health management strategies 

Setting aside legal requirements under the Equality Act and/or other applicable law or regulation, I truly believe that an organisation’s values are defined by the way that less advantaged, under-represented and less able people are treated. 

So, I want to provide some advice – from both the perspective of a sufferer of a mental illness as well as an advocate for equality, of some tips on how best to recruit, manage and retain diverse talent. 

Firstly – Should you hire someone with a mental health illness? 

Why should you recruit or give a chance to somebody with a mental illness? It’s madness, surely? – Surely hiring a ‘nut-job’ is a liability?

Absolutely not! 

Those with mental health disabilities are actually very capable; and in fact, chances are, they will understand certain situations or be able to identify opportunities or gaps where “more-abled” colleagues aren’t.

When I was in the police service and also during my time in immigration, I frequently came across those with mental health vulnerabilities. My in-depth understanding of their situation was an invaluable resource to the organisations I worked for. I was able to empathise, understand how best to speak to those with mental health vulnerabilities as well as how best to advise, signpost and deal with them.

Treat those with mental health vulnerabilities well and you’re likely to achieve high productivity, less sickness days and a very loyal employee who will repay your kindness with gratitude and a passion to succeed. 

Supporting a colleague or employee with a mental health illness – especially depression and anxiety disorders. 

Some tips: 

  • Read about their illness to try and better understand what they’re going through. Good resources include the charity ‘mind’, the NHS website and CoreHR . 
  • Assure them of confidentiality (unless of course they pose a risk of harm to themselves or others, in which case, your organisation should have a process or policy in place to deal with these matters). 
  • Include them in key decisions about the organisation or any departmental changes and seek their views and ideas. 
  • Feel confident and comfortable to be able to discuss their mental health during one-to-one meetings. Explain to them your willingness to understand their condition better. Don’t however impose this upon them and force them to answer your questions! It’s their choice.
  • Ask them what reasonable adjustments you could put in place for them; this is a legal requirement and a no-brainer! Importantly, you may want to consider putting reasonable adjustments in place for the interview process too, (be careful not to ask about the history of their illness during the interview, as this could land you in a whole world of legal trouble, but you can certainly outline your willingness to consider adjustments for mental health illnesses too at the interview invitation stage!), an example could be as simple as providing just a little bit more guidance to the prospective employee of what questions they could expect; for a person with an anxiety disorder, this would be extremely welcome! – or perhaps do this for all interviewees, there’s no reason not to!
  • Think of any adjustments you could put in place for them even if they can’t think of any themselves; there’s case-law that has been through Employment Tribunals that actively requires this! Examples could be adjustments to their working environment or workload, allowing time off for healthcare appointments and adjusting their attendance trigger points.
  • Provide an Employee Assistance Programme to all employees and embed a culture of openness within your organisation – be disability confident and actively provide guaranteed interview schemes to disabled employees, including those with mental health disabilities.
  • Embed within your own organisational strategy active steps to ensure inclusivity for all, including those with mental health difficulties; this could be mandatory mental health training, appointing mental health first-aiders or even positive-discrimination recruitment and promotion strategies or mentorship programmes for leadership development 
  • Remain patient: A colleague with an anxiety disorder in-particular may struggle with getting their point across as clearly and concisely as they would like; they may repeat certain things or come across as unsure. It in no way means that they’re any less capable than a more abled person to make decisions!  
  • Be conscious of what you are saying and how you are saying it. It’s important not to treat the person like a second-class citizen.

And most importantly:

  • Remain open-minded 

My own struggles when trying to find work / things that I’ve been through at work, three real-life situations that has happened to me: 

The first situation:

After an interview, I had a telephone call providing me with some feedback. “Sabbir, you did really well, but we found that you repeated yourself a lot during the second part of the interview”. 

My comments:

Yes, I was incredibly nervous and my anxiety was flaring up. At the time, I felt like running away and abandoning the interview process altogether. 

It’s certainly not unfair for the interviewer to say this. I’m not even suggesting that it is incorrect – it’s perfectly correct. However, it is a somewhat hurtful comment; it’s something that demonstrated to me a lack of accommodation to mental health illnesses and made me feel somewhat disadvantaged merely because of a symptom of my illness being a factor that affected my performance and in turn potentially influencing the hiring decision.

How this organisation could have helped me through the interview process is to have provided a little more explanation of what the job actually entails and what to expect during the interview process – i.e. the types of questions I will be asked and what competencies they’re seeking to establish. 

I didn’t get this job because another candidate was able to demonstrate their skills in a better way.

In contrast, a few days later, I had another job interview with an organisation that I start with very soon. Even before the interview took place, I felt a sense of readiness – I was told exactly what to expect during the interview, provided with an explanation of the kinds of questions I would be asked as well as having strong reassurance from the HR person of the organisation’s approach to employees with mental health illnesses.

And yes – I got the job.

The second situation:

An employer referred me to the occupational health service, who advised the employer that I should be allowed to wear “noise cancellation headphones or other headphone to be able to listen to relaxation music in a noisy office environment”. My employer’s response was to suggest that this is an unreasonable adjustment and that they will not allow it as it is against the “ground rules”

My comments:

This decision affected my work ability and I suffered greatly with stress and loss of productivity. I also felt very unsupported by the organisation’s management. 

However, more to this is how great a risk the organisation placed itself in and indeed the risk bit them back – hard. I was awarded £12,000 in compensation for disability discrimination as well as having the original decision reversed. 

Not only would my productivity have been far greater, the organisation would not have had to pay-out a five figure sum for a decision contrary to medical advice. 

The third situation (a positive one to end on a positive note!):

A manager knew of my condition, but didn’t know very much about how to support me. So, in a 1-1 meeting, she said to me “Sabbir, I’d really appreciate if you could tell me a bit more about your illness and how I can support you?” 

My comments:

This almost brought tears to my eyes. It was incredibly kind, demonstrated generosity and support and made me feel like a valued and normal person. 

The result from this became a strong friendship even after parting ways as colleagues, as well as me providing support and help to her in her own work and always doing my best for her. 

So to finish this article…

Be like the third situation – Be kind, show some empathy…and in return, you’ll have yourself a loyal employee who will support you through thick and thin! 

Why the police service will fail to recruit 40% BME

Diversity quotas are nothing new to the police service – the aim being to change the workforce demographic to be more ‘representative’ of the communities it serves. 

However, despite almost a decade of trying the Metropolitan police and other police services across the country continue to fail to meet their quotas. Yet, the Met have now set themselves a new challenge, undoubtedly prone to another round of failure – to meet a 40% BAME recruitment target for new police officers. 

Taking a look at the Met’s own statistics on diversity, despite BAME communities making up 42.6% of the London population, still only 13.3% of officers identify as BAME. Looking through the Met Inclusion and Diversity Strategy (2017-2021) under the leadership of Commissioner Cressida Dick, I remain perplexed as to how the service still fails to recognise a fundamental problem within the service that ultimately leads to a failure to recruit and retain the BAME talent it so desperately seeks. 

The problem is this – Much of vision of the strategy is very much ‘visible’ HR centric with only a small portion of it dedicated to engagement, independent advisory groups and a recognition of disproportionate dissatisfaction amongst the BAME public. What’s important is for the service to embed within its D&I strategy from its core is a recognition of operational failing towards diverse communities and its strategic and operational practices embedded by a predominantly white-male dominated police service that still struggles to find its way out of the deep hole of institutional racism that remains the status quo. 

It needs to restore the confidence of the communities it seeks to engage…for members of those communities to feel comfortable in engaging with it.

Take, for example – operational interaction with BAME. 

Those who are black are nearly 10 times more likely to be stopped than people who identify as white. In Dorset, the figure increases to 25 times higher a likelihood of being stopped if black. Analysis by Liberty Investigates and the Guardian earlier this year revealed that BAME people are 54% more likely to be issued with a fixed-penalty notice by police under coronavirus rules than white people. In 2017, figures revealed that black people were disproportionately affected when it comes to force being used against them by the Metropolitan police service. 

I can go on and pull statistics from a range of sources spanning over the last four decades relating to all aspects of operational policing in the UK. The point is – race relations still remain low whilst operationally the disproportionate use of stop and search, force and false arrest of those that identify as BAME remains high. 

Yet, it’s those from these disproportionately affected groups that the police service rely so heavily upon to meet its quotas? 

A personal story, from someone ‘BAME’ – and my relationship with the police 

Despite warnings against it by those whose opinion I otherwise hold in incredibly high regard, in 2015 I tried to join the Metropolitan police service as an officer. I could have opted for many different higher-paying, less stressful career paths, particularly as a Master’s graduate from UCL with solid working experience in a London local authority. However, I always had a passion to join the police and so that was what I wanted to do and was determined to do. My passion was fuelled by my interest in the area of honour and faith-based abuse and other forms of specific domestic abuse that affects those from BAME communities.  

I passed the initial selection, medical and fitness process with ease. Then came ‘vetting’.  

Whilst battling a lengthy vetting process, the experience of which I and other BAME candidates had discussed at the time in a WhatsApp group of being grossly unfair towards us compared to how white candidates were being easily vetted through and receiving their start-dates, it became obvious to prospective BAME officers that an introduction to institutional racism starts from the very moment a new recruit is asked to hand their security vetting forms in. Two officers who applied at the same time that I did but did pass their vetting clearance, didn’t receive a start date until one whole year after applying, despite fellow (white) candidates from their cohort having completed half of their two-year probationary period already. 

In my case, I was called in to an intimidating meeting with a senior official from HR who, simply put – made me feel like a criminal and interrogated the living daylights out of me for something that I was never charged for in the first place – something that the Met admitted to wrongdoing for. I then wrote lengthy correspondence to the then Commissioner, Bernard Hogan-Howe, which fell on deaf ears and with the standard response of “I will ask for this to be looked into”. 

The final rejection letter simply read “The Commissioner reserves the right to refuse candidates without giving reason”. It took a complicated Subject Access Request and various Freedom of Information Act Requests to obtain minutes to a security vetting panel meeting that finally revealed the reason for rejection – yes, low and behold – the wrongful, unlawful arrest which should never have been retained on the Met’s computer systems anyway. My story was published in the Sunday Times.  

A few months later, I was accepted into another police service and did pass the vetting and security clearance process very quickly. In that service, I was one of only about five BAME officers in the cohort of fifty. Whilst unable to divulge specific details – all five of us…left within two years.

The experience of BAME officers from vetting to training school and deployment with a tutor vastly differs from that of white officers. It is something I can personally attest to and have first-hand experience of. It is also widely documented as experiences of other BAME officers ranging from PC rank to Chief Superintendent and beyond. 

Further, BAME officers continue to be far more likely to face disproportionate disciplinary procedures and despite HR rhetoric, far less likely to be considered for unique placements, promotion and career development opportunities. In county services, BAME officers quite literally stick out like sore-thumbs, are excluded from social events, misunderstood by management and underestimated, undermined and treated differently by virtue of their observable difference in skin colour. 

Unfortunately, my experiences over the past decade with the police has led to complex post-traumatic stress. I now battle with panic attacks, anxiety disorder and sleepless nights. From feeling an innate desire from a young age to want to be a policeman, I now find myself in a position of resentment and distrust towards the entire establishment. No – not individual officers, many of whom I know and respect, who are decent and passionate individuals with great potential; but rather – their superiors, who continue to work hard to maintain the status quo.

Police “Service”

When the Metropolitan Police Service was founded by Sir Robert Peel in 1829, a core principle to its formation and existence is something we may all be rather familiar of, but not exactly know the true meaning of – that is “policing by consent”. 

Throughout this article, keen observers would see that I’ve avoided using the phrase “police force”. It’s because a ‘force’ is not what the police ‘service’ is and it should never be regarded a ‘force’. I think this is an important distinction to draw, as to regard the police as a force takes what the service is supposed to be for to something more oppressive by mere association with the word “force”.

I know this may well be regarded something rather small in nature. Also, even Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary refers to police services as police forces. However, I truly believe that for an inclusive and encompassing police service to exist, it needs to go back to those founding principles and reaffirm itself as a service based on consent. 

The Police need to reaffirm as an organisation of professionals that seek to prevent crime, engage with communities and work in a more integrated, prejudice-free and compassionate manner with healthcare, social-work and voluntary sector organisations. Arrest needs to be considered a truly last and necessary resort, practices on the use of force and in-particular the use of handcuffs needs desperately to be reviewed, with individual officers to be held to account for their actions. The retention of data or ‘intel’ needs to be reviewed in-particular with regards to ‘intelligence’ that has been obtained by means of unlawful and/or oppressive stop and searches, arrests or other operational dealings with members of the public. 

Because right now, if I could stare Commissioner Dick in the face and bluntly express to her what my view of the police is, it would be this:

“An institutionally racist force that doesn’t bother to investigate crimes and things that truly affect people, but instead has officers that roam-free with the knowledge of thuggish Territorial Support Group back-up being minutes away. A force that bullies the minority and criminalises people wrongly and meanly gathers intelligence to feed its ever growing database of criminalisation.

A force that theoretically should be a role-model and the best ‘police service’ in the world, yet has a very very…very long way to go until it deserves to hold that title”

Without sorting operational matters out first and beginning a process of rebuilding trust with the public from whom the consent of is a necessity to policing, the police never will be the so-called ‘inclusive’ and ‘diverse’ organisation it apparently seeks to become. 

Image source: change.org

Pro-maskers, anti-maskers and hidden disabilities

The pro-mask army 

A video published by a parent earlier this week to TikTok shows a girl being refused entry into her school by the headmaster for not wearing a face covering. The parent then turns to her daughter to ask her to wear her exemption lanyard and wrist bracelet. These were Hidden Disabilities’ Sunflower scheme products, which indicate some form of hidden disability and therefore an exemption to the rules on the wearing of a face covering. Yet still, the girl is refused entry into school. 

Vigilante videos across social media show quite often aggressive and abusive confrontation of those that are without a face covering on public transport, shops or other public area, demanding that the person wear a face covering and vilify them for not doing so.

Even vigilantes using a ‘moderate, non-aggressive tone’ towards those without a face covering, by merely publishing these videos to social media – seek to vilify people. 

Tuning into LBC, even the more sensible of radio presenters fail to challenge those that call in to express their outrage of those that refuse to wear a face covering, calling for prison sentences and more vigilante action towards these people. 

When face-coverings were first mandated, shocking footage emerged showing severe abuse towards the sister of a deaf person who removed her face-covering so that she was able to communicate with her sister. 

The anti-maskers 

This then brings me on to the outright selfishness of anti-maskers and those that seek at any and every turn to abuse the ‘exemptions’ to wearing a face-covering. 

A Delta Airlines crew member was physically attacked for asking a passenger to wear a face-covering. 

The ‘C.U.N.T award’ winning nation’s bigot, Katie Hopkins, was reported to have refused to wear a face-covering during a flight from Los Angeles to London.

Then you have the ample amount of individuals that just simply cannot be bothered to wear a face-covering and when confronted or asked to do so, claim 

“I’m exempt”

Which brings me to… Genuine exemptions. Those with some form of physical or mental illness or impairment, or disability; those who suffer from significant distress by putting on, wearing or removing a face covering; those (as described above) that remove their face-covering so that they are able to speak to or communicate with someone who relies on lip-reading. 

These are the people who suffer from both the ‘pro-mask army’ as well as the ‘anti-maskers’. They wrongfully find themselves libelled, abused and on social media videos; or, their disability becomes misunderstood and disbelieved because of the selfish actions of those that refuse to put the safety of their fellow citizens before their own bigotry. 

Shambles in implementation

The fact that a printable exemption card is available on the Gov website, without any checks or balances, makes a mockery of the law brought in to mandate the wearing of face-coverings. It easily opens the law to abuse and makes the enforcement and compliance of the law very difficult. There’s no need for issuance by a certified medical practitioner nor any proof required to carry a card. 

Yet, I believe the real problem comes down to an inherent ignorance amongst the British public of various medical conditions and hidden disabilities, which also demonstrates an ignorance of the Equality Act (2010), which is arguably breached in examples such as the one given above about the girl being refused entry into school, or in examples of people with disabilities being refused service or access to places for not wearing a face-covering despite having a genuine exemption.

As somebody who suffers from anxiety and depressive disorder myself and technically being exempt from wearing a face-covering under the rules, I would feel even more terrified to not wear a face-covering and end up abused and on a social media video than actually just fight through it and wear a mask. The result is that – for the past six months, I have had no choice but to avoid going into supermarkets or anywhere that I have to wear a face-mask for longer than just a few minutes, as I’m simply just not able to stay relaxed with one on. 

Putting aside my own somewhat milder example, an autistic caller to James O’Brien’s show on LBC a few weeks ago burst into tears outlining how terrified she is to go outside. Another caller outlined how his father who has a chronic lung-disease was abused for going out with breathing apparatus. 

Quite simply, what the last few months really has shown, especially to those with hidden disabilities – is an inherent misunderstanding amongst the British public of hidden disabilities, illnesses and neurological disorders. Sadly, it has also shown a lack of empathy for fellow citizens and a state of distrust combined with selfish behaviour lacking kindness.

I also believe that media discourse and a militant enforcement based approach is where another part of problem lies. To get the British public to ‘behave’, the government believe that an enforcement-based approach is necessary;  the contrast in Scandinavian countries like Sweden is evident – where the public are trusted and far more likely to follow public-health advice based on mutual trust and respect. Yet, the government have grossly misunderstood the public, as actually, there was overwhelming compliance to rules during the first lockdown. It’s the lack of clarity and leadership that results in the problems later on, as well as an utter failure to take solid action to counter the pandemic by the government that has inevitably resulted in blame being conveniently transferred from politician…to fellow citizen.

Some people – just won’t do as they’re told, especially if the threat of fines is enforced upon them; they’ll find any and every way to flout the rules. Others – become militant about enforcement and despite their best intention, fail to remember that…there genuinely are those with exemptions and it’s important to not let those that decide to abuse exemptions, to carry-over as abuse towards genuine exemptions. 

However, why is it so difficult for us all to just…be kind to each-other?

-SM