'Crisis' as attacks and abuse of UK shop workers rises to 1,300 incidents a day

14 February 2024, 09:43 | Updated: 14 February 2024, 09:45

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Violence and abuse against shop workers rose to about 1,300 incidents a day last year
Violence and abuse against shop workers rose to about 1,300 incidents a day last year. Picture: Alamy

By Asher McShane

Violence and abuse against shop workers spiked last year with about 1,300 incidents a day, according to an industry group which slammed the "woefully inadequate" action taken by the Government to address the "crisis".

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The British Retail Consortium's (BRC) annual survey found that the amount lost to shoplifting in the latest year was the highest ever recorded.

The number of incidents against staff rose by 50% to 1,300 per day in the year to September 2023, from 870 the year before.

About 8,800 of the total across the year resulted in injury.

Retail staff faced a barrage of violence and abuse from racial abuse and sexual harassment to physical assault and threats with weapons.

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Retail staff faced a barrage of violence and abuse last year
Retail staff faced a barrage of violence and abuse last year. Picture: Alamy

The number of incidents tripled during the Covid-19 pandemic when people took out frustrations with Covid safety measures on members of staff.

Incidents have remained significantly higher than before the pandemic, and were on a par with Covid-era levels last year.

The BRC, which has thousands of members including more than 200 major chains, surveyed a sample of retailers representing some 1.1 million employees across the country.

It found that customer theft doubled to 16.7 million incidents a year, up from eight million.

Shoplifting cost retailers about £1.8 billion in the latest year, the highest recorded amount and the first time it has surpassed the £1 billion mark, the BRC said.

Some of the retailers surveyed noted that the impact of the cost-of-living crisis changed the nature of shoplifting from one or two items to many.

Consumer Prices Index (CPI) inflation hit a peak of 11.1% in October 2022, during the retail crime survey year, with people seeing much higher prices for everyday essentials such as food and electricity.

Other retailers said they had seen a greater willingness among shoplifters to turn to violence and abuse, and that they felt there was a lack of consequences for offenders.

In the face of surging levels of crime, retailers spent about £1.2 billion on crime prevention measures such as CCTV, increased security personnel, and bodyworn cameras.

Helen Dickinson, the BRC's chief executive, said: "Despite retailers investing huge sums in crime prevention, violence and abuse against retail workers is climbing.

"With over 1,300 incidents every day, government can no longer ignore the plight of ordinary, hardworking retail colleagues.

"Criminals are being given a free pass to steal goods and to abuse and assault retail colleagues. No one should have to go to work fearing for their safety."

Ms Dickinson added: "This is a crisis that demands action now."

Some of the country's biggest retailers have sounded the alarm over rising levels of shoplifting and violence against staff.

The Co-op said there were more than 300,000 incidents of shoplifting, abuse, violence and anti-social behaviour in its stores last year, and called for MPs not to "turn their backs" on shopworkers.

The boss of John Lewis said shoplifting had become an "epidemic" with a rise in organised gangs looting stores.

The chain is among 10 of the UK's biggest retailers which last year agreed to fund a police operation to crack down on shoplifting, dubbed Project Pegasus.

The companies are expected to pay around £600,000 towards the project, which will use CCTV pictures and facial recognition technology to get a better understanding of shoplifting operations.

Furthermore, the BRC said the Government's Retail Crime Action Plan signals some "hope" for the sector, as it includes a pledge for police to prioritise urgently attending the scene of shoplifting that has involved violence against a worker.

The BRC, along with numerous business leaders, is calling for the introduction of a standalone offence for violence against retail workers, which it said is a "desperately needed" law to send a signal to criminals that such behaviour will not be tolerated.

This would bring English and Welsh law in line with the 2021 Protection of Workers Act passed in Scotland.

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