A recent survey conducted by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) has revealed alarming statistics regarding the escalating levels of violence and abuse faced by retail workers. The survey indicates a staggering 50% increase in such incidents, totaling 1,300 per day during the period of 2022/23, up from approximately 870 incidents per day in the previous year.

Despite significant investments by retailers in crime prevention measures, including expenditures amounting to £1.2 billion on initiatives such as CCTV, enhanced security personnel, and body-worn cameras—an increase from £722 million in the previous year—the cost of theft has doubled to £1.8 billion. This brings the total cost of crime to retailers to £3.3 billion, marking a twofold increase from the previous year.

The survey underscores the profound impact of violence and abuse within the retail sector, encompassing various forms such as racial abuse, sexual harassment, physical assaults, and threats involving weapons. The prevalence of these incidents mirrors levels observed during the pandemic, where frontline retail staff encountered heightened tensions regarding Covid safety protocols.

Despite the concerted efforts of retailers and substantial investments in security measures, dissatisfaction with law enforcement response has risen significantly. A concerning 60% of respondents expressed dissatisfaction with the police response to incidents, describing it as "poor" or "very poor."

In light of these distressing findings, retailers are urging the government to introduce a distinct offense targeting assaults, threats, or abuse directed at retail workers. Such legislation would send a clear message that such behavior will not be tolerated, thereby fostering a safer work environment for retail staff. Moreover, it would enable law enforcement agencies to gather data essential for understanding the magnitude of the issue and allocating adequate resources for its mitigation. This proposal aims to provide retail workers with legal protections akin to those already established in Scotland, where a similar offense was enacted in 2021.

Helen Dickinson OBE, Chief Executive of the British Retail Consortium, 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. Teenagers taking on their first job, carers looking for part-time work, parents working around childcare. And while the violence can be over in a moment, the victims carry these experiences with them for a lifetime. And we all know the impact does not stop there – it affects their colleagues, friends, and the family our colleagues go home to. This is a crisis that demands action now.

“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. The Protection of Workers Act in Scotland already provides additional protection to retail workers, so why should our hardworking colleagues south of the border be offered less protection? It is vital that government takes action – introducing a new standalone offence for assaulting or abusing a retail worker.”

Katy Bourne OBE, Sussex Police & Crime Commissioner and APCC Lead for Business Crime, said:

“The levels of retail crime described in this report reveal an unprecedented level of selfish lawlessness. Every day, retail staff are facing the consequences of shoplifters’ brazen behaviour and that’s why I have supported the call for a specific offence of assault on a shopworker.

“Our courts need to work more efficiently, and shoplifters need to be deterred from re-offending. That’s why I’m calling for my fellow Police & Crime Commissioners to focus their police forces on tackling shoplifting by making it a priority in their local Police & Crime Plans."

The BRC, as the primary trade association for the UK retail sector, plays a pivotal role in advocating for the industry's interests. With over 200 major retailers as members, alongside numerous smaller independents represented through trade association affiliates, the BRC champions initiatives aimed at promoting the legal, ethical, and sustainable operation of retail businesses. Through collaborative efforts with its members, the BRC endeavors to shape government policies conducive to the prosperity of retailers and the well-being of consumers alike, thereby ensuring the continued vitality of the retail sector—an integral component of the UK's socioeconomic landscape.