Violence and abuse of retail workers more than tripled over pandemic
Retail workers saw violence and abuse more than triple during the pandemic, according to new figures.
The British Retail Consortium said the number of incidents surged to 1,301 each day in the year to March 2021 – the first year of the coronavirus pandemic, which was dominated by social distancing and face mask rules.
This is compared to 455 per day in the previous year and took place at a time when non-essential shops were closed, meaning that the abuse was concentrated in a smaller number of premises.
Helen Dickinson, the consortium’s chief executive, said: “These figures make particularly grim reading as they came at the height of the pandemic when the ‘hidden heroes’ of retail were working tirelessly to look after customers, keep shelves stocked, and ensure orders were fulfilled.
“As our colleagues implemented COVID safety measures to keep the public safe, too many were met with hostility, abuse, threats and assault.”
The BRC figures showed that 125 incidents each day involved violence but only 4% of incidents resulted in prosecution.
The price of dealing with retail crime also leapt to £1.5bn for the year, which included £663m in losses due to customer theft, and £715m spent on crime prevention.
Usdaw General Secretary Paddy Lillis said: This BRC survey is further confirmation of the scale of the problem retail staff face on a daily basis and back up findings in Usdaw’s latest research. Our research found that 9 in 10 retail workers suffered abuse from customers, with far too many experiencing threats and violence.
“Particularly concerning was the one-third increase in assaults, up from 9% in 2020 to 12% in 2021. So, it is extremely worrying that nearly two-thirds said they were not confident that reporting these issues will make any difference.
“As the cost of living crisis bites things could get worse. We know from previous experience that when things get tough, shoplifting goes up, which is a concern for our members as it can be a further trigger for violence and abuse.
“Although the situation is bleak, there are some early signs that our work with retail employers may be starting to make a difference. The Protection of Workers Act came into force in Scotland in August 2021. Figures released earlier this month show that 1,600 cases of abuse have been reported to the police.
“While we still do not have similar laws for England, Wales or Northern Ireland, from August, assaulting a public serving worker will become statutory aggravating factor when sentencing.
“However, faced with such appallingly high levels of violence and abuse, and with shopworkers’ almost complete lack of confidence in the ability of the system to give them the protection they need, much more needs to be done.
“The Government must provide the co-ordination needed to ensure that retail employers, police and the courts work together to make stores safe places for our members to work and for customers to shop.”