Incidents of racial and sexual abuse, physical assault, and threats with weapons continue to rise

Shopworkers have borne the brunt of another “appalling” year of retail crime, with levels of violence and abuse almost doubling on pre-pandemic levels, new data shows.

The latest figures from the British Retail Consortium’s (BRC) Crime Survey reveal that incidents including racial and sexual abuse, physical assault, and threats with weapons, rose from the pre-Covid high of over 450 per day in 2019 and 2020, to over 850 per day in 2021 and 22.

Retail crime also continued to bear a huge financial cost on the sector, amounting to a total of £1.76bn, including £953m lost to customer theft, with eight million incidents of theft over the year, and £715m spent towards crime prevention.

In 2022, following an extensive campaign, the BRC, trade bodies and major retailers were successful in securing an amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act with the aim to better protect people working in retail. However, the Home Office currently does not track the use of this amendment, making it impossible to understand if the changes are having an impact.

The BRC said it will continue to work with Police and Crime Commissioners across the country to advocate for retail crime to have a higher priority and more resourcing in local policing strategies.

“The pandemic has normalised appalling levels of violent and abusive behaviour against retail workers,” said BRC CEO Helen Dickinson. ”While a confrontation may be over in minutes, for many victims, their families and colleagues, the physical and emotional impact can last a lifetime.

“To make the UK a safer place to work, the Home Office must improve its reporting around the amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, and the police must prioritise adequately resourcing retail crime. Surely everyone deserves the right to go to work without fear.”

Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis said: “It is deeply disturbing that the level of incidents faced by retail workers is now higher than before the pandemic. Violence and abuse is not an acceptable part of the job and too many shopworkers suffer all too often.

“Our joint campaigning with the BRC secured new protection of workers legislation, but to ensure this is properly enforced, there must be adequate police resources and retail crime must be taken seriously. We continue to work with retail employers and the police to help make stores safer and promote respect for shopworkers.”

Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne said: “The experiences reported across the UK in the BRC Annual Crime Survey mirror those I have been hearing about from businesses in Sussex. Too many shopworkers are being abused and assaulted every day.

“Where store safety policies guide staff not to challenge offenders, this can lead customers and people living near shops to feel that criminal and anti-social behaviour is becoming normalised.”