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Tackling retail violence


Violence against staff is a huge problem for retail. Figures from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) show that around 115 workers are attacked daily.

Bira has co-signed a letter to the Government alongside other retail groups to persuade them that more needs to be done to prevent violence towards shop staff.

We have made the case for the Government to act on this issue through the stages of the Offensive Weapons Bill in Parliament, forcing the Home Office to issue a Call for Evidence on the issue which closed last week.

The letter outlines many of the key asks (such as a new offence of assaulting a retail worker) and pledges that the industry will do more to report crimes too.

If you have been a victim of violence in your shop, we’d like to hear from you about your experiences, to strengthen our cause. Email editorial@bira.co.uk 

 

The full letter reads:

 

Dear Home Secretary, Lord Chancellor and Minister,

Action to Prevent Violence Towards Shop Staff

Retail is the largest single private employer in the UK, with roughly 3 million direct employees. Perhaps uniquely, it is woven into the fabric of each and every community and constituency in the country.

As an industry retail faces a range of challenges, but perhaps the most pressing and difficult is the rising tide of violence against retail workers (for the avoidance of doubt, including charity shop volunteers). The data are unanimous, highlighting a problem which has grown across the industry. The British Retail Consortium’s analysis highlights that 115 workers are attacked each and every day. The Association of Convenience Stores’ research estimates there were almost 10,000 incidents of violence in convenience stores in the last 12 months. USDAW’s work highlights that, on average, a shopworker is abused, threatened or assaulted 21 times a year – that is once a fortnight. According to research by the Charity Retail Association, one quarter of charity retailers report that incidents of violence against volunteers have increased in the past two years and nearly a third of charity retailers report that incidents of verbal abuse against volunteers have increased in the past two years. The Home Office’s own Commercial Victimisation Survey shows that retail sector consistently suffers several times more crime per premises than any other business sector surveyed.

The evidence multiple retail organisations are providing in response to the Call for Evidence, linked to other publications over past years, highlights one inescapable fact. Violence against retail colleagues is a hugely problematic and serious area of crime, with weapons, particularly knives, an increasingly significant problem. This Violence is commonly triggered by shopworkers delivering what the state asks of them: enforcing age restriction policies or refusing to serve intoxicated customers, or dealing with shop thieves.

The only conclusion is that there is a serious imbalance in the relationship between risk and reward for these criminals.

For us, it is the human angle that matters most. These are not victimless crimes. They impact on the skilled, passionate, determined individuals who make the industry such a vibrant place to work; their families and loved ones; the communities to which they contribute so much; and those who rely on the public services retail indirectly supports. Irrespective of whether they are volunteers or employees, work during the day or overnight, or from set retail premises or remotely, they deserve to be acknowledged and supported as victims of crime.

For the Government this must be seen as a considerable public policy challenge played out daily in every High Street, neighbourhood parade and village square.

This growth in violence has come despite record spending by retailers on crime prevention. Clearly a new approach is required, and we are writing to urge you to give effect to a range of recommendations, which are set out in more detail in the annexed paper. We will play our role, but need your consistent support and efforts to drive forward desperately needed reform. The key recommendations are:

• legislating for a specific new offence of assaulting a retail worker (including charity shop volunteers), giving them the same status as emergency workers. This visible and clear offer of support and protection will finally provide for effective sentencing responses and will help drive improved reporting;

• urgent work on the use of community disposals, looking in more depth and where and how they are used and culminating on appropriate guidance to support and appropriate response. This change will be rendered more necessary if plans to abolish short prison sentences further increase criminals perceived incentives to offend;

• inclusion of retail violence in the next iteration of the Strategic Policing Requirement and for Home Office Ministers to work with Police and Crime Commissioners to support inclusion in each and every Police and Crime Plan; and

• an immediate and fully funded HM Inspectorate of Policing thematic review of policing of retail violence, including attitudes to retail victims, response frameworks and relevant prioritisation. These will help identify the better performing forces and allow the less effective ones to learn much-needed lessons.

We remain absolutely committed to going even further to do our part. Across the industry, the record spending on crime prevention we spoke of earlier is increasingly focused on staff protection. Beyond that, we are leveraging the industry’s power to tackle the root causes of the symptoms we face, with the Shop Safe Alliance in Brixton shortly due to start an excellent example of our determination to resolve these issues and the development of training and guidance to help the smallest businesses.

We understand the importance of reporting more of the crimes we witness to police. Each undersigned retailer and representative body pledges to retain their focus on this area, to work to ensure that reporting within their organisation and to the police remains unencumbered. This will include greater use of the new Business Impact Statement and crime reporting guidance which we are grateful to the Home Office and National Business Crime Centre for publishing. We also ask the Home Office and senior police officers to ensure that, when reported, such crimes are recorded and reacted to as appropriately serious. No violent incident should be recorded as a simple shop theft and not attended rapidly.

Given the nature of the issues we have described, delay is not an option. There is no scope to kick the can down the road by waiting for a further consultation – the actions below must be agreed to, along with others which arise from the Call for Evidence, turned into a proper plan and delivered rapidly, co-ordinated through the National Retail Crime Steering Group.

 

Find out more about our policy and lobbying work here. 

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