Violence and abuse against shop workers up 50% last year, says British Retail Consortium

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Incidents of violence and abuse against retail workers increased by 50 per cent to 1,300 a day in the year to September 2023, compared with the previous year, new figures from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) have shown.

The BRC is calling for the government to introduce a standalone offence in England and Wales to cover assaults, threatening behaviour and abuse against retail workers specifically, as is the case in Scotland. In 2021, the Scottish Parliament passed a bill making it an offence to assault, threaten or abuse shop workers, with those convicted of committing such offences liable to imprisonment or a fine.

The BRC’s survey revealed that the 50 per cent increase in violence and abuse against retail workers in the 12 months to September 2023 happened despite retailers investing more in crime prevention. Retailers spent £1.2 billion on measures such as CCTV, increased security staff and body-worn cameras last year – up from £722 million the previous year. The cost of theft to retailers went up to £1.8 billion from £953 million the previous year.

The increase in violence came despite retailers investing more in crime prevention measures. Photograph: iStock/Jiggo_thekop

The survey also showed that 60 per cent of respondents described the police response to these incidents as either poor or very poor.

“Criminals are being given a free pass to steal goods and to abuse and assault retail colleagues. No one should have to go to work fearing for their safety,” said BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson. “It is vital that government takes action – introducing a new standalone offence for assaulting or abusing a retail worker.”

Late last year, the UK government launched a Retail Crime Action Plan, which includes a police commitment to prioritise urgently attending the scene of shoplifting incidents involving violence against a shop worker. It also includes a new initiative called Pegasus, which aims to build a comprehensive intelligence picture of the organised crime gangs which the government says fuel many shoplifting incidents across the country.

In the year to June 2023, data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that more than 365,000 shoplifting offences were recorded. Shoplifting is the main trigger for violence and abuse suffered by retail workers, according to the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (Usdaw). Out of 3,082 of workers surveyed by Usdaw, 65 per cent had been verbally abused, 43 per cent had been threatened and one in six had been assaulted during their career.

The British Safety Council says it is imperative that retail workers can fulfil their roles without the fear of violence. It has released the following statement on this issue: “We know that many retailers are taking proactive steps, such as introducing body-worn cameras and increasing their training offerings to cover self-defence and de-escalation.

“This should be deployed alongside a commitment from government to ensure that law enforcement bodies have the funding and powers that they need to tackle the recent rising trend in violence and abuse directed towards retail workers. Let's hope that these steps reduce violence against retail workers throughout 2024.”

Safety Management has contacted the Home Office for additional comment.