Victimisation and fear of crime in the gig economy: examining the case of food delivery moped riders in London

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Victimisation and fear of crime in the gig economy: examining the case of food delivery moped riders in London

The Police Foundation has recently been awarded funding by the Trust for London to undertake a 6-month research project looking at victimisation and fear of crime among moped-based food delivery drivers in the gig economy in London. Here our Senior Associate Fellow Gavin Hales introduces the research and invites contributions.

A couple of years ago I was chatting with Aziz*, one of the men who works during the day in my local mini supermarket in London. As always, Aziz’s increasingly battered moped was parked outside with its food delivery box on the back, the logo of one of the big app-based delivery companies stuck on the side. After a long day in the shop he delivered food in the evening around south and south east London, getting paid by the delivery as one of a growing number of workers in the burgeoning gig economy.

On this occasion, and over the course of two subsequent conversations, Aziz made clear he was very unhappy. The problem was that on a growing number of occasions while out collecting or delivering food orders he had been threatened or attacked by groups of youths intent on stealing his moped and/or helmet. He had lost two mopeds to theft and most recently he had been chased by four youths while waiting to collect a food order, who had forcibly removed his helmet in an attempt to steal it. Aziz had reported the attack to the police, who he complained bitterly had taken two days to reply that there was nothing they could do. This compounded an earlier investigation with no arrests, during which police had seized his helmet for forensic examination leaving him unable to work for several weeks. He said he felt unprotected and constantly worried about the dangers of working in unfamiliar neighbourhoods late at night.

In July 2017, shortly after Aziz recounted the repeated attacks to which he had been subjected, hundreds of food delivery drivers gathered in Westminster to protest what they alleged was a lack of protection. ‘Moped-enabled crime’ – mostly thefts and robberies – was surging in and around London, compounded by a spate of attacks involving corrosives being thrown at moped or motorbike riders. The difficulties police face in pursuing mopeds and motorbikes were implicated, including the lack of recognition in law for the advanced driving skills of pursuit trained police drivers and a number of high profile and lengthy criminal and misconduct investigations that had followed the deaths of or injuries to pursued riders.

The research

While there is a growing body of research on the gig economy, there is very little research that takes a criminological look at the gig economy, focusing on victimisation, fear of crime and the response of policing and other public bodies. The events described by Aziz, and the wider issues raised by the protests and media reports, point towards a number of key themes that will form the focus of the new Police Foundation research project, taking food delivery moped riders working in the gig economy as its focus:

– The nature of the gig economy and its relationship to victimisation and fear of crime, including lone and late-night working without a return to base, the need for the worker to provide their own equipment, and considerations about where and when to work, balancing potential profits and other factors.

– The changing nature of crime in London, in particular the growth of moped-enabled offending.

– The policing response to moped-enabled crime and the victimisation of food delivery moped riders working in the gig economy.

Subject to access, the proposed research will include:

– Interviews with food delivery moped drivers in the gig economy, working with the assistance of the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB).

– An examination of police data and interviews with police officers from local and specialist teams (for example in the Metropolitan Police Service Roads and Transport Policing Command).

– Interviews with and an exploration of any data held by the companies who develop and own the relevant gig economy IT platforms.

– Interviews with moped manufacturers to consider how crime prevention/target hardening could be implemented.

– A review of relevant academic publications, grey literature and media reports.

The resulting data will be analysed by the Police Foundation’s researchers who will then develop proposals for policy or operational change that will be discussed with key stakeholders. Our aims are to:

– Develop new data and evidence-based recommendations that will help food delivery moped drivers advocate for improved working conditions.

– Put new evidence in front of policy makers which we hope will lead to greater protection for workers in this sector.

– Affect the policies and practices of the Metropolitan Police Service – and other police forces – so they can better serve this group of victims and potential victims.

– Influence the practices of the large commercial operators in this sector so that they can provide safer conditions for workers.

– Contribute to the growing body of academic research about the gig economy with a particularly criminological focus.

How you can get involved

We would love to hear from you if you have an informed view on the issues set out above, especially if you are:

– A food delivery moped rider working in the gig economy in London.

– A police officer or analyst who has investigated or otherwise responded to the victimisation of food deliver moped riders and/or moped-enabled crime, including developing policy.

– A moped manufacturer or retailer.

– A food business whose products are delivered by gig economy moped riders.

– A solicitor or barrister who has acted in cases involving the victimisation of food deliver moped riders working in the gig economy, whether for prosecution or defence.

– An academic or other researcher who has conducted research on issues of relevance to victimisation or fear of crime in the gig economy, especially if it relates to food delivery moped riders or similar workers (e.g. couriers, minicab drivers).

– A civil servant, union representative or other policy maker working on developing and influencing policy in relation to the gig economy and/or moped-enabled crime.

You can contact us by emailing the Police Foundation or Gavin Hales, or by tweeting us @the_police_fdn or @gmhales or with the hashtag #PFgigecon.

(* Aziz is not his real name)