Parliament today (7 June) begins discussing the Protection of Retail Workers, following the success of an e-petition on the same issue that gained over 100,000 signatures.
Before the Covid pandemic it was estimated that around 250 shop workers were attacked every day, just for doing their jobs. The Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (USDAW) estimates that this has doubled during the pandemic, with issues such as panic buying, social distancing and mask wearing acting as a flashpoint for abuse and violence.
Many offences go unreported, which means that the impact upon individuals often remains hidden. Violence and aggression in shops have far-reaching and often devastating consequences on shop workers, their customers and their local communities.
Dr Alan Billings, South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, said: “As a PCC recently elected representing the Co-operative movement, I have been supportive in the past of the campaign to gain greater protections for retail workers against ever increasing levels of violence, threats and abuse directed towards them as they go about their jobs.
“Particularly over the last year or so, retail workers have been on the frontline of the national effort in keeping shops open, shelves stocked, and vital food and supplies available for all.
“Despite this, instances of violence, threats and abuse of shop staff has rocketed particularly around the enforcement of statutory age restrictions, with few prosecutions.
“I believe retail workers deserve better protection and the support of everyone across the many communities of South Yorkshire. I urge all our local MPs to support them in the parliamentary debates.”
The Co-op Group recently undertook analysis of the impact of the pandemic which shows that in the first quarter of 2021 there were almost 400 incidents where weapons have been used against shop workers. More than half (56%) of those involved either sharp implements such as syringes, knives and bottles. Last year there was also a 76% increase in recorded anti-social behaviour and verbal abuse, compared to 2019.
In their most recent analysis, the British Retail Consortium – the retail trade body – found that only 6% of incidents resulted in prosecutions, demonstrating the need for more to be done not only to prevent these instances in the first place, but give greater priority to supporting victims.
The recent Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill does not mention retail workers. The debate aims to put forward amendments to the Bill to ensure greater protections for them.