MPs are urging the government to do more to protect shopworkers following the rising tide of abuse during the coronavirus crisis.
The call comes in a report from the Home Affairs Committee, published today, and comes after the government rejected an amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill last week. It would have introduced tougher penalties for those attacking retail workers.
The government claimed existing legislation already sufficiently protected shopworkers and that it was employers, not the justice system, that weren’t supporting victims enough.
The Committee’s report, however, recommends the government “should consult urgently on the scope of a new standalone offence” of abusing a retail worker.
The report is the result of an inquiry that started in December last year, chaired by Yvette Cooper MP.
It has taken evidence from various trade organisations and retailers including the ACS, Usdaw, the BRC and Boots.
On the creation of a new offence, the Committee’s report stated: “We believe that retail workers must also be recognised, and that offences against them must be treated with additional seriousness, with extra protection from the law.
“The government should consult urgently on the scope of a new standalone offence. A clear message must be sent that nobody should feel unsafe at work.”
Other recommendations in the report include:
- There needs to be a “much stronger and more serious response from the police” when incidents are reported
- A mandatory requirement for the police to “formally flag offences committed in a retail environment” to give a consistent indication of the scale of the problem
- Chief Constables should “ring-fence a proportion of their additional policing capacity to expand neighbourhood teams” and build relationships with retailers locally
- A sustainable increase in funding, which is “urgently needed” for local drug rehabilitation services
ACS CEO James Lowman said: “This is a landmark report that should form the blueprint for tackling retail crime and violence against retailers and shopworkers. The report has identified the right measures to improve police response and the courts treatment of repeat offenders, particularly those with addiction problems that need effective rehabilitation.
“Existing powers, structures and legislation are not working. We need meaningful change, and the government should adopt all the committee’s recommendations.”
Home Affairs Committee chair Yvette Cooper MP said: “Yet too often the police have not taken these crimes seriously enough and workers have been left to deal with the traumatic consequences alone. Those who abuse and assault shopworkers must not be allowed to reoffend with impunity.
“Policing leaders must step up and make this a priority for local forces – with more neighbourhood police, clear plans to identify repeat offenders, respond to incidents swiftly and better record and understand patterns of local crimes.
“Other public workers have rightly been afforded extra protection by the law in recognition of the public service they provide and the increased risks they face, and a standalone offence for assault on emergency workers has produced promising early results in increasing prosecutions.
“Violence and abuse towards shopworkers must be treated with the same seriousness and those workers must be afforded similar protection in law.”