UK shop workers ‘targets’ as abuse and attacks soaron February 14, 2024 at 1:42 pm

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Violence against retail staff spiked to 1,300 incidents a day, says the British Retail Consortium.

A person packs a box in a shopImage source, Getty Images

Violence and abuse against shop workers rose to 1,300 incidents a day last year, a leading trade body said.

Incidents against staff were up by 50% in the year to September 2023, up from 870 incidents a day the year before.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) criticised the “woefully inadequate” action taken by the government to address the “crisis”.

The government said it had already made it clear police must take a “zero-tolerance” approach to shoplifting.

The amount lost to shoplifting in the past year was the highest on record, a BRC survey found.

Several business leaders have called for violence against shop workers to be made a standalone offence in England and Wales, as it already is in Scotland.

The BRC said incidents against retail staff ranged from racial abuse and sexual harassment to physical assault and threats with weapons.

It said about 8,800 of the total incidents across the year resulted in injury.

The BRC survey found that theft by customers had doubled to 16.7 million incidents a year, up from eight million.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC said that “despite retailers investing huge sums in crime prevention, violence and abuse against retail workers is climbing.

“No one should have to go to work fearing for their safety. This is a crisis that demands action now.”

Not everyone agrees attacks on shop workers should be a treated as a standalone crime, however.

Transform Justice is a charity campaigning for a better justice system. While condemning abuse and assault on shop workers, it said creating a new offence of assault shop worker would “do nothing to reduce this crime.

Director Penelope Gibbs said: short prison sentences “drive increased reoffending” because “no rehabilitative work can be done with prisoners on short sentences and imprisonment tends to create homelessness, unemployment and family breakdown”.

“The most effective response for low level assaults is for the police to apprehend whoever did it and deal with the crime out of court,” she added.

Retailers had lost £1.8bn in the latest year due to shoplifting, the BRC said, which is the highest amount on record and the first time it has surpassed the £1bn mark.

Some retailers surveyed said the cost-of-living crisis had changed how shoplifters operated, from taking one or two items to many.

Incidents against staff tripled during the Covid-19 pandemic and have remained much higher since then.

Retailers have spent about £1.2bn on crime prevention measures including CCTV, increased security personnel, and body worn cameras.

The BRC said the government’s Retail Crime Action Plan provided “hope” as it pledged a police commitment to prioritise crime scenes where there has been violence against a shop worker.

Speaking at the plan’s launch last October, Policing Minister Chris Philp said he wanted a “a new zero-tolerance approach to tackling shoplifting”.

In a statement on Wednesday, the Home Office said violence against retail workers was unacceptable “which is why we made it an aggravating offence to ensure tougher sentences for perpetrators”.

“The police have committed to patrol more areas and attend more shoplifting incidents, especially where violence has occurred.

“Good progress has been made on these commitments, however we will continue working closely with police and the sector to catch more perpetrators.”

In an open letter organised by the Institute of Customer Service in November, more than 50 businesses including John Lewis and the Post Office, as well as several MPs, urged the government to ensure assaults on shop workers were better recorded.

This would include recording such crimes separately in police statistics, they said.

The Co-op said violence against shop workers rose sharply last year with 1,325 physical attacks on staff in 2023.

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