Retail worker abuse surges to 1,300 daily incidents, BRC reports

According to a prominent trade body, violence and mistreatment against retail staff soared to 1,300 occurrences per day last year, marking a 50% increase from the previous year’s 870 daily incidents up to September 2023.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) condemned the government’s response to the escalating crisis, describing it as “woefully inadequate.” The home office has been approached for a statement regarding the matter.

A BRC survey revealed that shoplifting losses hit a record high in the past year. Business leaders advocate for standalone legislation against violence towards retail employees, an existing law in Scotland but lacking in England and Wales.

Incidents against retail workers encompassed racial abuse, sexual harassment, physical assaults, and threats with weapons, with approximately 8,800 resulting in injuries throughout the year.

Theft by customers doubled to 16.7 million incidents annually, as per the BRC survey, up from eight million previously.

Helen Dickinson, BRC’s chief executive, emphasised the urgent need for action, stressing that no worker should endure safety concerns while on duty.

Shoplifting losses reached £1.8 billion in the latest year, surpassing the £1 billion mark for the first time, according to the BRC. Some retailers noted changes in shoplifters’ behaviour amidst the cost-of-living crisis, transitioning from single-item thefts to mass looting.

Incidents against staff tripled during the COVID-19 pandemic and persist at elevated levels. Retailers have allocated approximately £1.2 billion for crime prevention measures, including CCTV installation, bolstered security personnel, and the adoption of body-worn cameras.

The government’s Retail Crime Action Plan offers optimism, promising police prioritisation of crime scenes involving violence against shop workers. Policing Minister Chris Philp advocates for a zero-tolerance approach to combating shoplifting.

In November, over 50 businesses, including John Lewis and the Post Office, along with numerous MPs, urged the government to enhance the recording of assaults on shop workers. They called for the separate categorization of such crimes in police statistics.

The Co-op reported a sharp increase in violence against shop workers, with 1,325 physical attacks recorded in 2023. John Lewis’ CEO labelled shoplifting an “epidemic” in the past year, underscoring the severity of the situation.

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