Violence and abuse against shop workers increased and continued to rise over the past year as enforcement of coronavirus measures such as face masks and social distancing led to more incidents, according to new research.
The British Retail Consortium’s (BRC) latest annual retail crime report found that there were 455 incidents of violence and abuse every day through March 2020.
This reflects a 7% increase in incidents over the previous year. However, industry leaders have indicated that the situation has only worsened after the pandemic.
Tom Ironside, director of economics and regulation at the BRC, said, “These numbers don’t cover the vast majority of the pandemic, but we shared a lot of information to show that there was a trigger caused by the virus and the rule was caused by enforcement.
“That was sometimes a problem between customers calling each other or when colleagues in the workshop had to enforce rules. It was a huge challenge for the retail workforce. “
Iona Blake, Safety and Incident Manager at Boots UK, said: “Frustrations and fears about Covid clearly became problems in the workshop.
“We have seen special cases of abuse against East Asian employees as a result of Covid, which, for example, fueled this racial hatred.”
Retailers said they also saw spitting as a form of violence against employees after the virus spread.
Even so, pre-pandemic abuse had increased, with data showing an increase of more than 50% since 2016-17.
The report also found that only 54% of incidents were reported to police due to concerns of inaction, with only 6% of all incidents being prosecuted.
Paul Gerrard, director of campaigns and public affairs for the cooperative, said the retailer had also seen an increase in the levels of violence committed.
He said five workers were attacked with weapons during the year, including a worker who “lost an eye after being attacked with a medieval mace”.
“It’s not just about ramping up the scale, it’s also about the violence involved in these incidents,” added Gerrard.
“It is particularly worrying as the police response has also deteriorated and there is clearly more need for action here.”
The report also showed that retail crime cost businesses around £ 2.5 billion over the year, of which nearly £ 1 billion is the direct cost of customer theft.
Helen Dickinson, General Manager of BRC, said: “Will retail workers in England and Wales ever get the protection they deserve?
“Despite clear evidence of the escalation of violence and abuse against retail workers, the government has consistently chosen not to act.
“These are not just statistics – those affected are our parents, our partners, and our children, all of whom suffer unnecessarily just to get their jobs done.
“Many incidents occur when employees are performing their legal obligations, including age verification and, more recently, implementing Covid security measures.
“And while retailers are spending huge sums on crime prevention, the situation is only getting worse.”