Attacks on shopworkers are worsening, with two in five shouted at, spat on, threatened or hit every week, according to a new survey.

A report from staff at over 200 retailers, including supermarkets and convenience operators, warns almost half of staff (47%) feel unease at work, with many looking to quit the industry.

Industry leaders say the survey shows the urgent need for ministers and police to do more to tackle store crime, after the government unveiled a Retail Crime Action Plan last month, which promised to prioritise attendance at violent shoplifting incidents. 

The new research by the Retail Trust, the charity for UK retail workers, claims attacks on shop staff are worsening each week, with 41% of staff reporting being threatened or being victims of violence.

Meanwhile, 64% said confronting a shoplifter had caused the abuse, with 67% calling for stricter penalties for customers who abuse shopworkers and 33% believing the police should be taking more action.

The Retail Trust, which runs a wellbeing helpline and provides counselling and financial aid for retail workers, said it was urging staff to ensure incidents did not go unrecorded, with 24% of workers admitting they don’t report abuse.

“Thousands of shopworkers are contacting us to say they now fear for their safety, and this is simply unacceptable,” said Chris Brook-Carter, CEO of the Retail Trust.

“Every day we’re hearing from people who have been shouted at, spat on, threatened or hit at work, sometimes several times a week, so we’re very concerned.

“One person told us they were hit around the head by a shoplifter with a metal basket. Another was knocked out cold by an angry customer, and this is on top of the vile insults and threats handed out on an all-too-regular basis.

“As a country and a society, we must get better at bringing an end to this terrible behaviour, making sure every incident is recorded and acted upon, and above all, ensuring our colleagues across the country get the protection and support they need.

“Our message at the Retail Trust is clear. Abuse is never part of anyone’s job and if you’re a retail worker encountering abuse, threats or violence, please do report this to your manager and call the Retail Trust’s wellbeing helpline if you need any support dealing with your experiences.”

Paul Gerrard, director of public affairs at Co-op – which today revealed Police had not responded to 76% of incidents in which the retailer had detained offenders – said: “Crime in many communities is increasing, and it is known that repeat and prolific offenders and local organised criminal gangs are driving serious incidents of brazen and violent theft in stores. It is an ongoing challenge for all retailers, and often a flashpoint for the unacceptable attacks and abuse towards colleagues.”

Ewan MacDonald-Russell, deputy head of the Scottish Retail Consortium, said that while crime against shopworkers in Scotland was a specific offence, lack of police numbers meant enforcement was not happening in practice.

“The reality is the police seem to be far too stretched to make it to all these incidents so the reality is retailers don’t have confidence to report these incidents,” he said.

“Abuse is increasing but there is not a lot of time or confidence in the police being able to tackle it, which is why you are seeing record investment from retailers in protecting their staff with body cameras, CCTV and security.

“That money they would rather spend on other things. That’s not in anyone’s interest.”

A petition calling for crime against retail staff to become an offence in England, and backed by companies including Tesco, has reached nearly 30,000 signatories.

Tesco UK head of security operations Andy Sanderson said: “The increase in retail crime is a concern for all retailers, as it also brings with it more incidents of abuse and violence towards shopworkers.

“We welcome the closer collaboration with the police and wider retail sector, and the greater focus on this issue from government, as ensuring the safety of our colleagues and customers is our number one priority.”