Retail sector calls on government to act on violence and abuse

A group of businesses and trade bodies representing the retail sector have written to the Home Secretary and other government ministers, calling for more to be done to tackle widespread violence and abuse against shopworkers.

The letter, signed by retailers and groups including the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS), British Retail Consortium (BRC), trade union Usdaw (Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers) and the Charity Retailers Association, calls for ‘bold, ambitious and collective action to deliver meaningful change’ that will reduce levels of violence and abuse – both from central government, the wider justice system and from retailers themselves.

Figures from the 2019 ACS Crime Report show that in the convenience sector alone, there were almost 10,000 incidents of violence and abuse last year. Additionally, Usdaw’s Freedom From Fear survey shows that over the last year, nearly two-thirds of shopworkers experienced verbal abuse and 40% were threatened by a customer. The BRC’s most recent Retail Crime Survey found that 115 workers are attacked every day, also highlighting some very concerning case studies. These trends are despite record spending on crime prevention by retailers, estimated by the BRC at over £1 billion per year.

The letter makes a series of recommendations to government for tackling violence and abuse including:

  • Tougher sentences for those who attack shopworkers;
  • Change to the out of court disposals system (eg fixed penalty notices) which is failing to have an impact on reoffending;
  • A full review into the response of police forces to incidents of violence in the retail sector.

The calls come as the Home Office closes its 12-week call for evidence today (Friday June 28) to tackle violence and abuse against shop staff. Launched on April 5, the call asked organisations and individuals to contribute to the government’s understanding of the problem. The move followed a ministerial roundtable with key industry leaders to discuss what could be done.

The aim of the call is to seek data relating to violence and abuse towards shop workers, including the extent to which incidents are linked to age-restricted sales of products such as cigarettes and alcohol. The Home Office also asked for feedback on prevention and support, enforcement and the criminal justice system. This included the effectiveness of the law and any barriers to reporting these crimes.

Responses were particularly encouraged from retailers, trade associations and unions, as well as those working in the retail industry.

According to BRC, responses from thousands of shops and shopworkers have been submitted, highlighting the true cost of violence and abuse and frustration around the way that offenders are being dealt with.

BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson OBE said “Retail is the largest private sector employer in the UK, with roughly 3 million employees spread across each and every community, and violence against employees is the most difficult issue it faces. These are not victimless crimes: they impact upon the skilled, passionate, committed individuals who make the industry so vibrant, as well as their families and loved ones. That is why so many of our members and aligned groups have come together to ask the government to do more to tackle this problem, and do it now.”

The Home Office has said it will consider the evidence and publish a response ‘as swiftly as possible’. More details about the call for evidence are here.

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