Talk about a u-turn, and one that hasn’t quite settled in. Despite a monumental amendment in the Criminal Justice Bill that would have made attacking a shopworker a standalone offence, tabled by MP James Cleverly in April, Tory ministers have failed to keep their promise.

It was, in part, expected. That’s because the calling for a general election meant any legislation yet to be fully scrutinised would not become law unless it was passed in the so-called ‘wash-up’.

Watch now: Arresting the rise of retail crime

And with Rishi Sunak announcing a general election on 22 May before parliament was prorogued on 24 May, the wash-up period lasted a mere two days. With such limited time available, it meant bills more advanced in the parliamentary process made the cut.

So with the Criminal Justice Bill far from complete – with over 100 pages of amendments still left to debate – needless to say it wasn’t at the top of government’s list of priorities.

Labour would legislate for an offence 

Not all hope is lost, however. It is likely such protective legislative measures will be revived by the next government, given the law had received cross-party support.

Labour has already been clear it would legislate for a standalone offence, including MP Alex Norris, who had also tabled an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill in January. And with the Tories’ commitment too, shown by Cleverly’s amendment, shopworkers must not lose heart yet.

But the frustration is that shopworkers are now facing a further delay in getting the protection they so desperately need. Once a new bill is outlined in the King’s Speech in July, it isn’t likely to become law until at least summer 2025, with the parliamentary process starting from scratch.

As Co-op campaign and public affairs director Paul Gerrard says, that would make it “a year after it should’ve been and three years after it could’ve been”.

The government’s dithering and delaying is a kick in the teeth for shopworkers who are facing unacceptable levels of abuse and violence every day, but also the retailers, trade bodies, and unions who have long lobbied for such protective measures. If it had listened to them sooner, then the bill wouldn’t have fallen. And retailers are already at breaking point.

Police have time to improve response rates

“The bill needs to be revived and looked at again because it’s not going to ease up any time soon,” says Londis retailer Nishi Patel. “We need help now to get it under control before retailers have had enough and shut up shop.”

For the time being, the sector is stuck with existing powers to shield them from the retail crime epidemic – which isn’t enough.

Police have, at least, improved their response rates to reports of shopworker abuse since the government’s announced its Retail Crime Action Plan in October. But there are still less than 10% of cases that end up in arrest in England and Wales – highlighting a lack of resources for the police and courts to investigate, prosecute, and sentence offenders.

A standalone offence is by no means a silver bullet. But coupled with a robust police response, government and local authorities should have the necessary tools to tackle retail crime holistically. The next government must make this law a priority.