Thank you to the constituents, many of whom were retail workers themselves, who took the time to write to me regarding abuse and violence towards retail workers.
Last year, the British Retail Consortium’s annual retail crime survey found that an average of 424 violent or abusive incidents took place every day against retail workers. Further research by Usdaw, the shopworkers union, found that abuse, threats and assaults against retail workers doubled at the height of the coronavirus pandemic with 88% experiencing verbal abuse, 60% threatened by a customer and 9% assaulted. These findings are shocking and need to be addressed as a matter of urgency. Nobody should fear physical or verbal assault at work but that is the reality for many retail staff.
The Home Office launched a call for evidence on violence and abuse towards shop staff in April 2019, which closed on 28 June 2019. After over a year of no response, the Government finally responded to the findings of this consultation on 7 July 2020 to say that it “does not consider that the case is yet made out for a change in the law”.
I disagree. As you may know, the Government recently introduced its Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill to Parliament. This Bill includes welcome protections for emergency service workers who face assaults, but I believe these should be extended to cover shopworkers and other frontline workers.
At committee stage my Labour colleague, Sarah Jones MP, introduced an amendment to the Bill which would have provided the specific offence of assaulting a retail worker. I was bitterly disappointed that the amendment was rejected by the Government, betraying the three million retail workers in the UK, instead arguing that existing offences and guidelines are sufficient. Retail workers, who are far too often paid less than a real living wage, and who are the key workers who have kept this country going throughout this pandemic, at great personal risk, deserve far better.
The Prime Minister needs to listen to the sixty-six retail leaders who wrote to him in February 2021 and millions of frontline retail workers across the UK and introduce a new statutory offence of assaulting, threatening or abusing a retail worker. I can assure you that I will continue to support efforts to ensure retail workers are given the protection they deserve.