2 in 5 retail workers face abuse from customers on a weekly basis in the UK, which has led 42% to consider quitting their jobs or leaving retail work altogether
Imagine being a retail worker today. You’re not just managing sales or restocking shelves; but facing violence and abuse on daily bases. It’s the reality for many retail workers across the UK, especially since the onset of the pandemic. But why is this happening, and what can be done about retail security?
The current situation in Scotland
In Scotland, retail security’s situation reached a point where the government had to step in. The Protection of Workers Act, introduced in August 2021, made assaulting or abusing retail workers a specific offence. The Scottish Government has allocated £10 million to fund the Protection of Workers Act.
Did it make a difference?
The numbers speak for themselves: Since the law’s introduction, reported assaults on shop staff in Scotland have spiked by 50%. In the first 3 months of the law, 300 cases of abuse against shop workers were reported to police in Scotland. In 2023 alone, up to November, there were 2,233 reported assaults – an average of 203 each month. The reports of threatening or abusive behaviour also saw a similar increase, with 2,582 incidents reported in the same period.
What does this surge in numbers tell us? Are we looking at a worsening problem , or is this a sign of increased reporting due to the new law?
Scottish law has led to more reported cases, it’s not entirely clear if it’s reduced assaults or just made them more noticeable. This highlights the need for a broader strategy, including new laws, in retail security to safeguard retail workers UK-wide.
The situation across the rest of the UK
Now, let’s turn our attention to the rest of the UK. The picture here is equally concerning, yet lacks the legislative backing seen in Scotland. Retail workers in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland continue to face similar threats, often with little to no legal recourse specifically tailored to their situation.
According to the British Retail Consortium, incidents including abuse, physical assault, and threats with weapons had risen from 450 per day in 2019-20 to around 850 per day in 2021-22. A survey by the Retail Trust found that 867 violent or abusive incidents occurred towards retail staff every day, with £953 million lost due to customer theft annually and £1.76 billion as the overall cost of retail crime, including prevention.
The Call for Change
The voices calling for change are growing louder. Retail representatives, trade unions, and even the British Retail Consortium are united in their call for UK-wide legislation.
The British Retail Consortium’s crime survey 2023 revealed an alarming statistic: 850 incidents of violence and abuse against retail workers every day across the UK. The survey also reported that retail theft cost the industry £953 million in 2021/22, with 8 million incidents.
In response, in 2022, an amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act was passed, recommending that violence towards retail workers be considered an aggravating factor in sentencing.
The Way Forward
What if every abusive encounter at the checkout or every threat over enforcing age restrictions on products could lead to serious legal consequences? Would this change the behaviour of those who think it’s okay to mistreat retail workers?
We need to do something for our retail workers across the UK. They help us every day, and it’s time we make sure they’re safe and treated well. Now’s the time to act, for their sake and for the good of our communities.
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