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Victimisation and Fear of Crime in the Gig Economy

Author: Stephen Walcott, Researcher, The Police Foundation

This report from The Police Foundation, funded by Trust for London, is the first study of the impact of crime on food delivery couriers in the gig economy.

Technology has facilitated the growth of the food delivery gig economy in London. However, in parallel, there has been a growth in moped theft and moped-enabled crime in recent years, with food delivery couriers becoming a particular target. Not only can a stolen moped have a devastating impact on a courier’s livelihood, that moped is then used to commit other offences, such as drive-by possession snatches, fuelling a wider criminal network.

Through interviews, this report works to give a voice to this 'hidden' category of workers, who are often young people from disadvantaged circumstances. There are clear feelings of vulnerability among couriers due to their involvement in the food delivery gig economy.

The report makes 24 recommendations to protect couriers and prevent crime:

  • One important measure that would improve the safety of couriers would be for an independent body to collate self-reported courier experiences of crime (perhaps using an app) to identify patterns and provide a real-time broadcast function to allow couriers to better assess the risks they face.

For food delivery companies:

  • Couriers should not be penalised for asking customers to collect their order from outside their residence to reduce the distance and time spent away from their moped. This is particularly important when delivering to blocks of flats or big estates where it can be difficult to locate the address.
  • Couriers must be encouraged to have GPS trackers (and/or cameras) on their mopeds. The price of these should be subsidised. They should also be company managed or branded with immediate access available for a fast reaction; this is vital for circumstances where the offender has a signal jammer and when there is a short time period to react before the tracker is removed. However, the cost of the tracker would offset the cost of investigations and the amount of property stolen by a criminal that will repeat offences.
  • The companies should inform couriers about how they work with the police so that they are aware of initiatives in place to protect them.
  • Delivery companies should formally and regularly share information with companies that provide personal protection to lone workers, such as the Send for Help Group.
  • Companies should provide comprehensive safety training (with police input) including guidance on how couriers can protect and secure their mopeds.
  • Uber Eats should allow couriers to view the location of their trip before accepting it for both risk and time management purposes.
  • Uber Eats should ensure that their communications with couriers are regularly quality reviewed and that the company protocols are followed.
  • Deliveroo should introduce an emergency button on their app that automatically contacts the police and provides their location, similar to Uber Eats’ app.
  • Companies should consider offering financial protection for couriers who have had their moped stolen. They should also stop the practice of account suspension for “criminal investigation” unless financial support is offered. These measures will enable couriers to confidently report crime.
  • Companies should consider allowing couriers to deliver in pairs (and pay both workers their usual rates) in areas of high incident reporting.
  • Companies should make customers aware of the vulnerabilities couriers face through a leaflet campaign (via restaurants) and/or a recurring notification on the food delivery app. Customers should be encouraged to show supportive behaviour (such as meeting the courier outside the delivery address, if they request it). The implications of giving a courier a low rating should also be made clear. These measures could form part of a wider poster and television campaign.

For restaurants taking orders:

  • Ensure every food order contains a leaflet provided by food delivery companies to alert customers to the safety implications of being a courier.
  • Ensure posters are visible inside and outside of restaurants alerting customers to the vulnerabilities couriers face.
  • Contribute to the newly founded independent reporting body while facilitating and collating incident reports for couriers at the restaurant.

For the police:

  • Ensure that all information and intelligence provided by couriers is taken seriously and is acted upon, including informing couriers that this is the case. Ensure there is greater police presence (including on motorbikes to pursue) in (particularly dark) areas where incident reports are numerous and a location reaches a threshold to become a hotspot.
  • Engage with the newly founded independent reporting body.
  • Work with Deliveroo to introduce an emergency button on the company’s app.
  • Offer police-led safety and crime prevention training and advice to delivery companies and their workforce.
  • Communicate regularly and proactively with couriers to check on their wellbeing and gain intelligence on local crime affecting couriers.

For the government, the Mayor of London and local authorities:

  • Proactively ensure CCTV cameras are functioning properly, including Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR).
  • Support the foundation of an independent reporting body.
  • Emphasise Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design by funding more lighting in dark areas (particularly estates where there are numerous places for criminals to hide) and limiting escape routes for offenders.
  • BEIS should include questions on crime and safety in their attitudes survey of workers in the gig economy (see BEIS, 2018b).

18 November 2020

Victimisation and Fear of Crime in the Gig Economy