Attacks and abuse of shopworkers tripled during pandemic

Violence and abuse against shopworkers more than tripled over the pandemic as they enforced social distancing and face mask restrictions, according to new figures.

May 31, 2022
By PA Media
Picture: Federation of Independent Retailers

Abuse levels soared despite far fewer shops being open due to the closure of non-essential stores for large parts of the year.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) said the number of incidents surged to 1,301 each day in the year to March 2021, from 455 per day a year earlier.

“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,” said Helen Dickinson, chief executive of BRC.

“As our colleagues implemented Covid safety measures to keep the public safe, too many were met with hostility, abuse, threats and assault.”

The trade body said 125 of these daily incidents included “violence”. While incidents of violence and abuse soared, only four per cent of incidents resulted in a prosecution, the BRC said.

Retailers also reported a surge in the cost of dealing with retail crime, which leapt to £1.5 billion for the year. Companies reported that this included £663 million lost due to customer theft and £715 million spent on crime prevention.

Earlier this year the UK Government introduced an amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill which created a statutory aggravating factor to assaults committed against workers “providing a public service or performing a public duty”.

Similarly, Scotland introduced a specific offence for violence and abuse against retail workers last year.

Ms Dickinson added: “Violence must never be a part of the job. Those retail colleagues affected are our parents, our partners and our children, and they have suffered needlessly, just for doing their job. They can bear the emotional scars and carry the trauma for the rest of their lives.

“It is vital that the amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill helps to deter perpetrators, but this will require the police to take action and improve their response to incidents.”

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