A cross-industry coalition of retailers and trade bodies have joined forces to call for further action to tackle violence and abuse against store workers.

Staffordshire Police

In an open letter to the Home Secretary and other ministers, the group has called for action to deliver meaningful change that will reduce levels of violence and abuse, both from central government, the wider justice system and from retailers themselves.

The calls come as the Home Office closes its 12-week call for evidence on violence and abuse in the retail sector, with thousands of responses from store workers submitted, highlighting the true cost and frustration of retail crime.

The chief executives of Costcutter, McColl’s, Spar, Co-op Food, Central England Co-operative and Scotmid are among the signatories of the letter, alongside the chiefs of Sainsbury’s, Marks & Spencer, Aldi, Lidl, Iceland, Greggs and numerous non-food retailers.

The letter recommends the government toughens sentences for those who attack store workers; changes the out of court disposals system, for example fixed penalty notices; and conducts a full review into the response of police forces to incidents of violence in the retail sector.

The Association of Convenience Stores, British Retail Consortium, Charity Retail Association and Usdaw have also signed the letter.

According to the ACS 2019 Crime Report, crime against convenience retailers cost the sector an estimated £246m over the last year, with over four-fifths (83%) of convenience store workers reported having been subject to verbal abuse over the last year.

ACS chief executive James Lowman said: “Retailers and staff that have been subjected to abuse often give up on reporting crimes to the police because nothing is done, and that needs to change.

“We need fundamental reform of the justice system to deter criminals from committing lower level offences, more consistent police response to show retailers that they take incidents of violence and abuse seriously, and ultimately tougher sentences to tackle reoffending rates when the worst does happen. No one should have to go to work fearing abuse as part of their everyday life.”

BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson added: “Retail is the largest private sector employer in the UK, with roughly 3 million employees spread across each and every community, and violence against employees is the most difficult issue it faces.

“These are not victimless crimes: they impact upon the skilled, passionate, committed individuals who make the industry so vibrant, as well as their families and loved ones. That is why so many of our members and aligned groups have come together to ask the Government to do more to tackle this problem and do it now.”

Convenience retailers have told C-Store that the emotional well-being on store staff and the psychological impact of verbal abuse linked to age-related sales and threat of crime is being put at risk.

Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis said: “Evidence from employers, police and shopworkers shows that violence, threats and abuse against retail staff is a persistent and increasing problem. Usdaw’s own survey revealed that on average a UK shopworker can end up on the wrong side of a verbal or physical assault nearly once a fortnight.”