Today is the second reading of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill in the House of Lords. The British Retail Consortium (BRC) is calling on the government to indicate in the debate that it will honour the commitment  it made in the House of Commons to address the issues of rising violence & abuse against shop workers and ensure that they have better protection under the law.
Violence and abuse against retail workers is getting worse by the year with 455 incidents every day in 2019-20, a 7% rise on the previous year. Incidents have soared since the pandemic as staff have tried to ensure customers follow Covid-19 rules. Other flashpoints include challenging shoplifters or asking customers for ID when they are purchasing age restricted items. The rise in incidents is despite a record £1.2 billion investment in safety measures such as body-worn cameras, more security personnel and panic alarms.
Last month, the new Protection of Workers (Retail and Age-restricted Goods and Services) Act 2021 came into force in Scotland after it was unanimously passed by the Scottish Parliament, meaning staff in Scotland are better protected than those in England and Wales.
The BRC is calling for the Government to pass legislation that would make assaulting or abusing a retail worker a specific offence, with tougher sentences for offenders. This would act as a deterrent and ensure retail workers feel safer, and would increase visibility of incidents so that police forces can allocate appropriate resources and ensure they provide an adequate response.
There is extensive support for retail staff across Parliament; 55 MPs signed the BRC’s Shopworker Protection Pledge promising to support legislation to better protect retail workers. Furthermore, the Home Affairs Select Committee’s recent report concluded that we need “extra protections” in the law to keep retail workers safe from a “shocking upsurge in violence and abuse”.
Helen Dickinson OBE, Chief Executive of the British Retail Consortium, said:
We need legislation in England and Wales to protect our hard-working retail colleagues. It makes no sense nor is it remotely fair that people who work in retail are better protected in Dundee than they are in Doncaster.
The current laws simply do not go far enough. Most offenders go unpunished, while victims and their families are left traumatised. We cannot let another year to go by with rising crime statistics and a mounting pile of deplorable stories of violence and abuse in shops. The government needs to act, and deliver on its commitment to protect retail workers.”
Notes to Editors:
- Matt Vickers MP: Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm his commitment to bring forward measures in the Bill to do justice for our retail workers and those who serve the public?
- Rt Hon Robert Buckland MP, Secretary of State for Justice: I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I look forward to working with him and other colleagues on bringing forward measures that will deal with the need to protect our valiant retail workers, who have given us so much in this pandemic and who serve our country with distinction.
- Victoria Atkins MP, Home Office Minister: “I thank my right hon. Friend for his scrutiny and service not just on Report but in Committee. I can reassure him; I know how strongly he and other Members across the House, including my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South (Matt Vickers), feel about the matter. I reassure the House that we are not complacent about ensuring that the criminal law is fit for purpose. We are actively considering an amendment in the Lords if appropriate.”
- Victoria Atkins MP, Home Office Minister: “Colleagues have expressed understandable concern regarding the treatment of key workers, particularly those who keep our shops and supermarkets open and stocked, those who keep our buses and trains running, and key workers such as refuse collectors, park staff, teachers and others who perform a vital duty at any time, but particularly in the very difficult 18 months we have all experienced. We are very conscious that when our constituents are serving the public and delivering key services, they must feel safe doing so. No one should feel unsafe in their workplace. We therefore all feel anguish about some of the stories we have heard in relation to retail and other workers over the past year.
The Lord Chancellor and, indeed, the Government, completely understand the sentiments behind the new clauses tabled by the Leader of the Opposition and my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South (Matt Vickers), and I hope that Members have heard the indication that we gave earlier in the debate. There is a range of existing laws, with significant penalties, that cover assaults and abuse of all public-facing workers. Sentencing guidelines already require the courts to consider as an aggravating factor, meriting an increased sentence, an offence that has been committed against a person serving the public. However, I make it clear that we want to assure my hon. Friend and Members of all parties that we are not complacent about the matter and that we are actively considering tabling an amendment, if appropriate, in the Lords.
Government response to the Home Affairs Select Committee report, Violence and abuse towards retail workers, 9 September 2021.
The government response states: “In response to an amendment tabled to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill on 5 July 2021, the Minister for Safeguarding, Victoria Atkins MP committed to consider an amendment in the Lords if appropriate. We will take into account the text of the Protection of Workers (Retail and Age-restricted Goods and Services) (Scotland) Act 2021 in our consideration.”