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Retailers call for bill amendment to stop ‘shocking violence and abuse’ of shop workers

Written by on 4 July 2021

Bosses at the UK’s biggest retailers want the prime minister to help stop the “shocking violence and abuse” of shop workers.

Executives at Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Primark are reportedly among those to have written to Boris Johnson asking for an amendment to policing laws.

Violence against shop workers has bee increasing in recent years, retailers say, but this has worsened during the coronavirus pandemic as workers found themselves having to enforce rules such as mask-wearing by customers.

The letter, coordinated by the British Retail Consortium (BRC), said that amending the Police, Crime, Sentencing And Courts Bill would help improve the situation.

The letter says: “One business reports a 76% increase in abuse and a 10% increase in violent attacks during COVID-19, of which over half involved a weapon, and many of our colleagues have been coughed at or spat on.

“This was a very serious issue for retailers long before the pandemic and the situation cannot be allowed to get any worse – there is a clear need now for better protection in law for retail workers.”

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC, said: “Retail workers are facing violence and abuse every day just for doing their jobs – keeping customers safe during the pandemic, checking ID, and confronting shoplifters.

“Behind each of these statistics is a person, a family, colleagues and communities that have to cope with this trauma.

General view of Brent Cross shopping centre in London.  Picture by: Anthony Devlin/PA Archive/PA Images  Date taken: 02-Mar-2016 Image: It has not been an easy year for most retailers, due to coronavirus restrictions

“No one should go to work fearing for their safety, yet many retail workers have come to see it as part of the job – this can’t go on.”

The BRC said retailers spent £1.2bn in the past year on crime prevention measures such as body-worn cameras, personal attack alarms, and security personnel.

The most recent retailer survey pointed to a 7% year-on-year increase in violence and abuse in 2019 to 455 cases each day.

Crime and policing minister Kit Malthouse said: “It is completely unacceptable to threaten or assault retail staff, not least when they are working so hard to keep vital services running, and we absolutely condemn this behaviour.

“We are putting 20,000 extra police officers into our communities to cut crime – including retail crime – and we launched the #ShopKind campaign in April to provide better support to victims and encourage customers to treat shop workers with dignity and respect.

“The Sentencing Council has set out guidelines that mean courts should be increasing sentences for assaults committed against those providing a service to the public, including shop workers.”

The bill will receive its third reading in parliament on Monday.

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