Abuse against retail workers almost doubles, says BRC

Violence and abuse against people working in retail has almost doubled on pre-pandemic levels, says new data from the BRC.

The latest figures from the British Retail Consortium’s (BRC) Crime Survey reveal that incidents, including racial and sexual abuse, physical assault, and threats with weapons, rose from the pre-Covid high of over 450 per day in 2019/20, to over 850 per day in 2021/22.

Alongside the huge emotional and physical impact on people, retail crime bears a huge financial cost. The survey revealed the total cost of retail crime stood at £1.76 billion in 2021/22. £953 million was lost to customer theft, with eight million incidents of theft over the year. Retailers also spent £715 million on crime prevention in 2021/22. While some costs are critical in protecting colleagues, they also contribute to higher prices for customers by pushing up retailers’ operating costs.

In 2022, following an extensive campaign, the BRC and others were successful in securing an amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act with the aim to better protect people working in retail. However, the Home Office currently does not track the use of this amendment, making it impossible to understand if the changes are having an impact.

The disturbing scale of violence and abuse faced by retail workers every single day is why last summer 100 retail CEOs wrote to 41 Police and Crime Commissioners in England and Wales, calling them to commit to making retail crime a priority in local policing strategies. These included retailers from the furnishings industry such as Bensons for Beds, BoConcept, B&Q, DFS, Dunelm, Fishpools, Furniture Village, Homebase, IKEA, John Lewis, N Brown, Oliver Bonas, ScS, Sterling Furniture, Studio Retail, The White Company and TJX Europe.

Police support is vital. The BRC will continue to work with Police and Crime Commissioners across the country to advocate for retail crime to have a higher priority and more resourcing in local policing strategies. The full report is here.

Helen Dickinson, Chief Executive of the British Retail Consortium, said: “The pandemic has normalised appalling levels of violent and abusive behaviour against retail workers. While a confrontation may be over in minutes, for many victims, their families and colleagues, the physical and emotional impact can last a lifetime. 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.”

Paddy Lillis, General Secretary of Usdaw, said: “It is deeply disturbing that the level of incidents faced by retail workers is now higher than before the pandemic. Violence and abuse is not an acceptable part of the job and too many shopworkers suffer all too often. 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. We continue to work with retail employers and the police to help make stores safer and promote respect for shopworkers.”

Katy Bourne, Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner, said: “The experiences reported across the UK in the BRC Annual Crime Survey mirror those I have been hearing about from businesses in Sussex. Too many shopworkers are being abused and assaulted every day. 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.”

Chris Brook-Carter, Chief Executive of Retail Trust, said: “Being physically or verbally attacked should never be part of anyone’s job but the findings of the BRC Annual Crime Survey sadly echo what we’re hearing at the Retail Trust, with thousands of people telling us they are being shouted at, spat on, threatened and hit at work. They are extremely anxious, being forced to take time off or even quitting their jobs as a result.

“Our message at the Retail Trust is clear. This is simply not acceptable and if you are a retail colleague suffering from any kind of abuse, threats or violence, please report this to your manager and call the Retail Trust’s wellbeing helpline (0808 801 0808) if you need any help dealing with your experiences.”

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