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Violence and abuse against shop workers is on the rise but the perpetrators are rarely prosecuted, according to new research.
The retail trade body, the British Retail Consortium (BRC), says there were on average 455 incidents a day in 2019, up 7% on the previous year. It said things have worsened during the coronavirus pandemic and called for greater legal protections for retail workers.
The government said it had advised courts to increase sentences for violence against frontline workers.
The BRC said shop workers faced aggression over everything from asking customers for age verifications to respecting COVID safety measures. It said, however, only 6% of incidents resulted in prosecution.
The trade body is calling for violence or abuse towards a retail worker to be made a statutory offence in England and Wales, as it is in Scotland, to better protect staff.
BRC boss Helen Dickinson OBE told the BBC: “Will retail workers in England and Wales ever receive the protection they deserve? Despite clear evidence showing the escalation of violence and abuse against retail workers, the government has time and time again chosen not to act.
“These are not mere statistics, those affected are our parents, our partners and our children, all who needlessly suffer, just for doing their job. Many incidents arise as staff carry out their legal duties, including age verification and more recently, implementing COVID safety measures.”
Knives a “significant concern”
The previous British Retail Consortium’s annual Retail Crime Survey, published in 2019, revealed an average of 115 retail employees were attacked at work every day and the use of knives had become a “significant concern”.
In total, the survey recorded just over 42,000 violent incidents in the retail sector and noted a trend towards incidents becoming “more violent and frightening”, with an increasing willingness to use weapons to intimidate even for relatively small amounts.
The survey also found the total cost of crime and crime prevention for retailers was £1.9 billion last year, up 12% from the previous year (£1.7bn).
This was made up of £900 million direct cost from retail crime, and £1 billion spent in efforts to prevent crime.
Approximately 70% of respondents described the police response to retail crime as poor or very poor.
Violence against employees
While opinions showed the police response was generally better for violent incidents, as compared to customer theft or fraud, only 20% of respondents considered the response good or excellent.
“Violence against employees remains one of the most pressing issues retailers face, yet once again we have seen an increase in the overall number of incidents,” said Consortium Chief Executive, Helen Dickinson OBE.
“Such crimes harm not just hardworking employees, but also on their families and communities. No one should go to work fearing threats and abuse.”
An annual survey by the Union of Shop, Distributed and Allied Workers (USDAW) reported a 40% increase in incidents of violence against shop workers since 2016, with threats and abuse also up significantly.
Worryingly the survey revealed that one in six retail staff who have been assaulted don’t report it, mainly because they don’t think it will make a difference.
Freedom From Fear
Responding to the Consortium’s 2019 survey, the General Secretary of USDAW, Paddy Lillis said: “Life on the frontline of retail can be pretty tough for many shopworkers and there is still a lot to do to help protect them.
“We launched our Freedom From Fear Campaign in the face of growing concerns amongst retail staff about violence, threats and abuse. The campaign works with employers to promote respect and make shops safer for staff.
“It is time for the Government to act by providing stiffer penalties for those who assault workers; a simple stand-alone offence that is widely recognised and understood by the public, police, CPS, the judiciary and most importantly criminals. Shopworkers are on the frontline of helping to keep our communities safe, they have a crucial role that must be valued and respected.”