Violence and abuse against shopworkers surge with 455 attacks every single day as calls for new laws increase

Calls are mounting for assaults, threats or abusive behaviour towards retail workers to become a statutory offence after there were more than 450 incidents of violence and abuse to shop staff every day during 2019/20.

The latest annual report into retail crime by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) revealed there were 455 incidents of violence and abuse each day in the year to March 2020. This reflects a seven per cent jump in the previous year.

The BRC is urging similar legislations to the Shopworker Protection Bill which has been introduced in Scotland to be brought in in England, stating it would toughen sentences for those who are violent or abusive towards shopworkers, deter future perpetrators and ensure staff feel safer at work.

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BRC Chief Executive Helen Dickinson OBE said: “Will retail workers in England and Wales ever receive the protection they deserve?

A generic picture of a shopworker.

“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. And, despite retailers spending enormous sums on crime prevention, the situation is only getting worse.

“Scotland has sent a clear message that the rise in violence and abuse must end, and the rest of the UK must follow their lead.”

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Tom Ironside, director of business and regulation at the BRC, said: “These figures don’t cover the vast majority of the pandemic, but we have had a lot of information shared to show there was a trigger point caused by the virus and rule enforcement.”

Iona Blake, security and incident manager at Boots UK, added: “Frustrations and anxieties about Covid clearly became issues on the shop floor.

“We saw particular instances of abuse against East Asian staff members as a result of Covid, for example, with it fuelling that racial hate.”

Retailers said they also saw spitting used as a form of violence towards employees following the spread of the virus.

The report also revealed that only 54 per cent of incidents were raised with the police due to concerns over inaction, with just six per cent of all incidents resulting in prosecution.

Paul Gerrard, director of campaigns and public affairs at the Co-op, said the retailer has also seen a increase in the level of violence being committed.

He said five staff members were attacked with weapons during the year, including one worker who “lost an eye after being attacked with a medieval mace”.

“It’s not just increasing levels but increasing violence in those incidents,” Mr Gerrard said.

The report also showed that retail crime has cost companies around £2.5 billion over the year - a 14 per cent rise on the previous year.