Almost one in five (18%) retail staff suffered a violent attack in 2023, according to Usdaw research, up from 8% in 2022.

The retail trade union reported that while the number of incidents has come down since the exceptionally high levels during the pandemic, it remains higher than pre-Covid levels in 2019.

The survey of 5,500 retail staff found that 70% experienced verbal abuse and 46% were threatened by customers. The main triggers for incidents were shoplifting (61%), enforcement of legislation (48%), frustration from customers (62%) and harassment (37%).

In terms of what shop workers want to help with the issue, management support was the most common response, followed by more security staff and the banning of offenders. The call for body worn cameras, headsets and CCTV doubled when compared to the previous year.

Commenting on the survey, Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis said retail workers “provide an essential service and deserve our respect and the protection of the law”.

“Our members have reported that they are often faced with hardened career criminals and we know that retail workers are much more likely to be abused by those who are stealing to sell goods on. Our latest survey results show that 7 in 10 retail workers suffered abuse from customers, with far too many experiencing threats and violence. Theft from shops and armed robbery were triggers for 61% of these incidents.

“Violence and abuse is not an acceptable part of the job and much more needs to be done to protect shopworkers. The UK Government has repeatedly failed to act in the face of an epidemic of retail crime, rising theft from shops and assaults against retail workers. It is disappointing that they have no measures in their legislative programme to tackle this issue. We support opposition attempts to amend the Government’s Criminal Justice Bill, so that the law is strengthened to protect shopworkers from violence, threats and abuse.

“A protection of shopworkers law is also supported by many retailers. It already exists in Scotland and has secured over 500 convictions. We also need more neighbourhood police with patrols in town centres, respect orders to ban repeat offenders and an end to the £200 threshold for investigating and prosecuting shop theft. Most of all, we ask the public to support our campaign by respecting shopworkers.”