Katharine Hay, PA Scotland reporter
Thu, 2 March 2023 at 12:01 am GMT
Violent and abusive attacks on retail staff have almost doubled since pre-pandemic levels, a new crime survey can reveal.
More than 850 incidents have been recorded daily in the UK between 2021 and 2022, which include racial and sexual abuse, physical assault, and threats with weapons.
This is a jump from the 450 attacks per day that happened in the year 2019 to 2020, before Covid hit.
While campaigners secured new protection for workers in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act last year, the latest grim statistics have prompted calls on the Home Office to do more to ensure this is properly enforced, and that there is adequate police resources for protection.
Senior police officers have said they fear the anti-social behaviour is becoming “normalised.”
The latest figures were released in the British Retail Consortium’s (BRC) Crime Survey, published on Thursday.
Some 70 out of the 850 daily incidents are occurring in Scotland, according to Ewan MacDonald-Russell, deputy head of the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC).
He said the figures are “utterly unacceptable”, and insisted “police and courts make tackling retail crime a priority”.
The study also found the total cost of retail crime stood at £1.76 billion in the last year.
A total of £953 million was lost to customer theft, with eight million incidents of theft reported from the retail sector over the year.
In the same year, retailers spent £715 million on crime prevention, according to the report.
While some costs are critical in protecting colleagues, the BRC said this meant higher prices for customers because of the retailers’ increasing operating costs for safety.
Last year, 100 retail chief executives wrote to 41 Police and Crime Commissioners (PCC) in England and Wales, calling them to commit to making retail crime a priority in local policing strategies.
Despite the campaigners’ success in securing an amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, they said the Home Office currently does not track the use of this amendment, which they claim is keeping them in the dark about whether or not the changes are having an impact.
Helen Dickinson, the BRC’s chief executive, said: “To make the UK a safer place to work the Home Office must improve its reporting around the amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, and the police must prioritise adequately resourcing retail crime. Surely everyone deserves the right to go to work without fear.”
She said the physical and emotional impact of violent and abusive attacks on retail staff, their families and colleagues, can last a lifetime.
Paddy Lillis, general secretary the USDAW union, said: “Our joint campaigning with the BRC secured new protection of workers’ legislation, but to ensure that this is properly enforced, there must be adequate police resources and retail crime must be taken seriously.”
Katy Bourne, Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner, said the figures from the survey mirror what has been happening to businesses across Sussex.
“Too many shop workers are being abused and assaulted every day,” she said.
“Where store safety policies guide staff not to challenge offenders, this can lead customers and people living near shops to feel that criminal and anti-social behaviour is becoming normalised.
“It’s clear that we will only drive crime down by bridging some of the gaps that still remain in reporting processes, police response, criminal justice sanctions and a partnership approach to prevention.
“Police need businesses to report incidents and provide evidence that can identify offenders.
“PCCs will make sure that the concerns of BRC members get the national and local policing attention they deserve.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “It is completely unacceptable to threaten or assault shop workers. We’ve recently put aggravated sentences for assaults on workers providing a service to the public into law, showing that these crimes will not be tolerated.
“We’re also putting 20,000 additional police officers into our communities to help cut crime and we launched the #ShopKind campaign to provide better support to victims, while encouraging customers to treat shopworkers with dignity and respect.”