Violence and abuse against retail
staff is increasing, but according to research by the British Retail Consortium
(BRC) it is rare for offenders to ever be prosecuted. In fact, only 6% of incidents actually result
in a prosecution.
BRC research shows there were an
average of 455 incidents a day in 2019, which up 7% on the previous year. But disturbingly,
the BRC believe that things have worsened during the coronavirus pandemic. They
now want the Government to provide greater legal protections for all shop
According to research by the organisation, the abuse can range from workers being spat at, to weapons, such as syringes and knives, being
used to threaten staff. The BRC claim that shop workers face aggression over many
issues, including asking customers for age verifications, and requesting that
customers respect coronavirus safety measures.
Has coronavirus made things even worse?
According to retailers, social
distancing restrictions have become a major flashpoint. For example, the
Co-op's policy director, Paul Gerrard, says that coronavirus has been
"weaponised" with colleagues spat on or coughed at, or threatened with syringes and other weapons, simply for doing their job.
In fact the Co-op has recently reported
a 76% rise in anti-social behaviour and verbal abuse towards its staff during
2020, which equates to more than 100 incidents a day.
What can the Government do?
The Scottish Government has already
passed The Protection of Workers Bill making it a new specific offence to
assault, abuse or threaten retail staff. The BRC would now like the national
Government at Westminster to follow suit. They claim that this would send a
clear message to perpetrators that their behaviour is unacceptable, as well as
give better protection for the three million staff who work in the retail
They are also calling for violence or
abuse towards a retail worker to be made a statutory offence in England and
Wales, as is already the case in Scotland
The Chief Executive of the BRC, Helen
Dickinson OBE posed the question: "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 of whom 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
What is the view of the Government?
According to a Home Office spokesman:
"It is completely unacceptable to threaten or assault retail staff, not
least when they are working so hard to keep vital services running."
"The Sentencing Council has set
out guidelines that mean courts should be increasing sentences for assaults
committed against those providing a service to the public, including shop
workers. Last month the Minister for Crime and Policing launched the Shopkind
campaign in collaboration with retailers to ask customers to shop with
kindness, alongside resources to improve the reporting of these crimes and
offer support for victims."