Today, BRC gave evidence alongside Usdaw and the Co-op to the House of Commons Criminal Justice Public Bill Committee on retail crime and the need for standalone offence for violent and abusive behaviour towards retail workers. You can watch the 45-minute session in full here.
The Criminal Justice Bill was announced in the King’s Speech earlier this year. It’s a wide-ranging bill, covering many elements of criminal justice – but contains nothing on specific protections for retail workers faced with violence and abuse while at work.
The Sentencing Act 2022 set out that when a public-facing worker (including retail colleagues) face violence and abuse at work, the courts must treat this with an aggravating factor, which means tougher sentences.
But, data is not kept on the use of the aggravating factor by courts, so we don’t have visibility on how it is been applied and what impact this is having. This also makes it difficult for the police to allocate appropriate resource to the challenge. A standalone offence would address these issues, and send a clear message that Parliament does not tolerate violent and abusive behaviour towards people simply doing their jobs.
MPs on the committee include the Policing Minister Chris Philp and his Shadow Alex Norris, both of whom BRC has worked closely as part of our campaign for better legal protections for retail workers. The Committee were interested in understanding the scale of retail crime, with all three witnesses speaking to the marked increase in its scale and changes in its nature, with an organised crime element behind some shoplifting.
BRC, Usdaw and Co-op countered a point made by the College of Policing at an evidence session earlier this week, where their witness said that big retailers aren’t doing enough to prevent crime in the first place. Investment in new protective measures, processes and security staff were all set out.
The Policing Minister asked witnesses if other groups (e.g. teachers, councillors) would start to seek specific protections in law were a standalone offence for violence against a retail worker brought in: his message was that this could lead to a patchwork of different standalone offences, and his line of questioning made it clear that the Government do not seem to favour a standalone offence at present. However, witnesses explained that no other industry or sector has seen the explosion in violent and abusive behaviour toward workers that retail is witnessing.
They also made clear that if government is going to ask retail workers to enforce legal restrictions – including age-verified sales, a common flashpoint for abusive or violent behaviour – they must also ensure they are properly protected in law.
BRC will follow up with written evidence to the Committee. If members would like to submit their own evidence, they can find more details here – note the deadline of 30 January 2024