The number of local councillors who have reported feeling at risk in their role due to rising levels of abuse and intimidation has increased to a new high in the last year.
The number of local councillors who have reported feeling at risk in their role due to rising levels of abuse and intimidation has increased to a new high in the last year, a new Local Government Association (LGA) survey has found.
Councillors responded to the survey about their experiences of abuse and intimidation, with 82 per cent saying they felt at risk at least some of the time whilst fulfilling their role, up from 73 per cent last year.
The survey, which suggests that abuse against councillors is getting worse, also found that:
- 54 per cent of councillors have seen abuse aimed at them increase since they were first elected, with 31 per cent seeing a sharp increase.
- 81 per cent (8 in 10 councillors) reported having experienced intimidation and/or abuse in their role as a councillor in the last year, eight per cent higher than last year.
- Over the last year the number of councillors who said they experienced abuse frequently has doubled and the number saying they never experienced abuse reduced from 27 per cent to 19 per cent.
On the final day of its Annual Conference, the LGA is warning that a rise in abuse is preventing councillors from representing the communities they serve, deterring individuals from standing for election and undermining local democracy.
It is calling on the Government to work with the police to set out clear and consistent guidance to help address abuse, intimidation and harassment of councillors. Councils have warned that current policing approaches are inconsistent, under-resourced and vary too much from place to place.
A number of respondents also highlighted that the use of social media has increased the level of abuse aimed at councillors, with some members of the public behaving in a way online that they would not do so in person.
Councils are urging the Government to ensure that the experience of councillors on social media is considered in any new Ofcom guidance mandated by the Online Safety Bill.
The findings of the survey form part of the LGA’s Debate Not Hate campaign, launched last year to raise public awareness of the role of councillors in their communities, encourage healthy debate and improve the support for local politicians facing abuse and intimidation.
Cllr Marianne Overton and Cllr Shabir Pandor, Co-Chairs of the LGA's Civility in Public Life Programme Steering Group, said:
“Abuse and intimidation aimed at local councillors is completely unacceptable and it is deeply concerning that this survey suggests that this is a problem that is growing. If left unaddressed, it risks forcing good councillors out of local politics altogether.
“Robust debate and scrutiny are critical parts of a healthy democracy, ensuring people are able to express their views and that people in public life are held to account.
“However, there is a clear line between debate and abuse, which should not be crossed.
“To help tackle this issue, the Government and Ofcom should take steps to ensure that harmful and abusive behaviour does not continue unrestricted online as well as working with the police to develop clearer guidance on tackling the abuse of locally elected members.”