The trade body said incidents of violence and abuse were ‘on par’ with those committed during the pandemic 

Violence and abuse against people working in the retail sector is quickly escalating, with incidents rising by 50% to 1,300 a day in 2023, according to the latest figures by the BRC.

The trade body said the scale of incidents – which include racial abuse, sexual harassment, physical assault and threats with weapons – was “on par” with the levels seen during the pandemic.

Despite rising cases, dissatisfaction with the police increased, with 60% of respondents describing the police response to incidents as ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’.

The shoplifting scourge also shows no signs of slowing down, with the cost of theft almost doubling to £1.8bn – amounting to 45,000 incidents a day.

Retailers are calling on the government to introduce a standalone offence of assaulting, threatening, or abusing a retail worker, similar to Scotland’s Protection of Workers Act, which came into effect in 2021.

BRC said this would send a clear message that this behaviour will not be tolerated, making retail workers feel safer in the workplace. It would also mean the police had data that allowed them to understand the scale of the issue, and to allocate sufficient resources to deal with it.

“Despite retailers investing huge sums in crime prevention, violence and abuse against retail workers is climbing,” said BRC CEO Helen Dickinson. “With over 1,300 incidents every day, government can no longer ignore the plight of ordinary, hardworking retail colleagues.

“Teenagers taking on their first job, carers looking for part-time work, parents working around childcare. And while the violence can be over in a moment, the victims carry these experiences with them for a lifetime. And we all know the impact does not stop there – it affects their colleagues, friends, and the family our colleagues go home to. This is a crisis that demands action now.

“Criminals are being given a free pass to steal goods and to abuse and assault retail colleagues. No one should have to go to work fearing for their safety. The Protection of Workers Act in Scotland already provides additional protection to retail workers, so why should our hardworking colleagues south of the border be offered less protection? It is vital that government takes action – introducing a new standalone offence for assaulting or abusing a retail worker.”

Katy Bourne, Sussex police & crime commissioner and APCC lead for business crime, said: “The levels of retail crime described in this report reveal an unprecedented level of selfish lawlessness. Every day, retail staff are facing the consequences of shoplifters’ brazen behaviour and that’s why I have supported the call for a specific offence of assault on a shopworker.

“Our courts need to work more efficiently, and shoplifters need to be deterred from reoffending. That’s why I’m calling for my fellow police & crime commissioners to focus their police forces on tackling shoplifting by making it a priority in their local police & crime plans.”