The number of incidents of violence and abuse against retail employees in the UK has increased to 1,300 per day.

The number of incidents of violence and abuse against retail employees in the UK has increased to 1,300 per day.

British retail employees are experiencing 1,300 instances of violence and mistreatment on a daily basis, and are struggling to manage bold cases of theft, putting pressure on government officials to take action and ensure the safety of these workers.

According to the British Retail Consortium (BRC), which represents a majority of major retailers, there was a 50% increase in incidents of racial abuse, sexual harassment, physical assaults, and threats with weapons last year. Additionally, thefts more than doubled to a total of 16.7 million incidents.

The increase in theft from retail stores has occurred alongside a period of excessive inflation in prices. Everyday items, such as eggs and baby formula, have significantly risen in cost over the past couple of years, reaching a rate that has not been witnessed since the 1970s. This has resulted in many families facing financial difficulties.

There is debate among experts about the impact of implementing technology, such as self-checkouts, as a means of reducing labor costs. Some argue that this has contributed to issues, while retailers attribute problems to an increase in organized crime and limited police resources.

Helen Dickinson, the BRC’s CEO, urged for an increase in police arrests.

According to Dickinson, even with significant investments in preventing crime, there has been an increase in violence and mistreatment towards retail employees. Criminals are getting away with stealing merchandise and harming their colleagues without consequence. It is unacceptable for anyone to have to fear for their safety while at work.

The amount of thefts has increased fourfold compared to before the pandemic. After a surge during the lockdowns of 2020, violence and abuse decreased but have now risen again and are three times higher than pre-pandemic levels.

The most recent statistics follow a letter sent by nearly 90 retail executives, such as those from Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Boots, and WH Smith, to the government in October calling for action to combat increasing retail crime. They stated that aggressive criminals were depleting stores of their merchandise.

Merchants are urging the government to create a distinct crime for physically attacking, intimidating, or verbally mistreating a worker in the retail industry. They believe this would help law enforcement better grasp the extent of the problem and convey the seriousness with which these offenses are being addressed.

In 2021, Scotland implemented a comparable law that enforces harsher penalties for retail crimes. This law also mandates that police document all instances of retail crime and allocate additional resources. Dickinson questions why our diligent colleagues in England should receive less protection.

The Association of Police and Crime Commissioners’ lead for business crime, Katy Bourne of Sussex, stated that the amount of retail crime being reported is unlike anything seen before.

Retail employees are frequently dealing with the aftermath of bold actions by shoplifters, which is why I have backed the proposal for a distinct charge of assault against a store employee.

We must improve the efficiency of our courts and discourage repeat offenses by shoplifters.

The Co-op announced that it will be implementing 200 secure till kiosks and locked cabinets for bottles of spirits in its 2,000 stores throughout the UK. Additionally, it will be using AI technology to monitor self-checkouts in its supermarkets due to a 44% increase in retail crime last year. The company has also doubled its security guard budget.

Last year, Next’s CEO Simon Wolfson reported an increase in shoplifting, resulting in a decrease in profit margins. This statement followed John Lewis’ announcement of a £12m increase in theft, with its chair Sharon White labeling shoplifting as an “epidemic”.

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According to Paul Gerrard of the Co-op, most thefts involve individuals stealing large quantities of goods to resell, often accompanied by threats or abuse.

There have been instances of individuals being tracked to their homes from their workplace. I am aware of one specific case where we had to relocate individuals to ensure their well-being.

According to him, there have been reports of aggressive theft occurring in both urban areas and affluent market towns. He also mentioned that experienced criminals tend to move on to different stores if increased security measures are implemented at a preferred location.

In certain regions, Co-op stores were experiencing a frequency of over two occurrences per week in which thieves were leaping over checkout counters to steal cigarettes, lottery tickets, and money.

Gerrard reported that there have been signs of improvement in recent months due to the implementation of the government’s plan to combat retail crime, released in October. This plan includes a pledge from the police to prioritize responding to incidents of shoplifting involving violence against employees or when security guards have apprehended a perpetrator.

The proposal also includes the contentious Project Pegasus, which involves 10 major retailers in the country, such as Marks & Spencer, Boots, and Primark, providing CCTV footage to the police. The footage will be analyzed using facial recognition technology in an attempt to identify frequent or potentially harmful individuals.

According to Gerrard, the presence of police at Co-op stores during incidents has increased significantly from 20% to 60% since October. This is seen as a positive improvement.

Prior to October, participating in that activity posed no danger. However, now there is a legitimate possibility of being apprehended and brought to trial.

The spokesperson for the Home Office stated that the minister responsible for policing has emphasized the importance of a zero-tolerance stance towards shoplifting. They also stressed that violence against retail workers is not acceptable, and as a result, the government has implemented stricter penalties for those who commit such offenses.

“We are maintaining a strong partnership with retailers. The police have pledged to increase their patrols and respond to more cases of shoplifting, particularly those involving violence. We have seen positive advancements in these efforts, but we will continue to collaborate closely with the police and the industry to apprehend more perpetrators.”