A group of businesses and trade bodies representing the retail sector have written to the Home Secretary and other 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, British Retail Consortium, USDAW 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 British Retail Consortium’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 British Retail Consortium at over £1 billion per year.

The letter makes a series of recommendations to Government for tackling violence and abuse, so that the nearly 3 million retail colleagues in the UK no longer have to face violence and abuse on a daily basis. Recommendations made in the letter include:

  • Tougher sentences for those who attack shopworkers
  • Change to the out of court disposals system (e.g. 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 on violence and abuse. 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.

Association of Convenience Stores chief executive James Lowman said: “Retailers and staff that have been subjected to abuse often give up on reporting crimes to the police because nothing is done, and that needs to change. We need fundamental reform of the justice system to deter criminals from committing lower level offences, more consistent police response to show retailers that they take incidents of violence and abuse seriously, and ultimately tougher sentences to tackle reoffending rates when the worst does happen. No one should have to go to work fearing abuse as part of their everyday life.”

Helen Dickinson OBE, Chief Executive of the British Retail Consortium, 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.”

Paddy Lillis, Usdaw General Secretary, said: “Evidence from employers, police and shopworkers shows that violence, threats and abuse against retail staff is a persistent and increasing problem. Usdaw’s own survey revealed that on average a UK shopworker can end up on the wrong side of a verbal or physical assault nearly once a fortnight. Our message is clear, abuse is not a part of the job. We continue to call for stiffer penalties for those who assault shopworkers and the introduction of a simple stand-alone offence that is widely recognised and understood by the public, police, courts and most importantly criminals. Retail staff have a crucial role in our communities and that role must be valued and respected, they deserve the protection of the law.”

Notes to Editors

The Home Office Call for Evidence on violence and abuse was launched on April 5th. More details about the launch are available here.