Opinion - ​The Fight Against Shop Worker Assaults, is Britain angry?

Opinion - ​The Fight Against Shop Worker Assaults, is Britain angry?

Posted by Stelios on 10th Apr 2024

Recently, I was waiting in a Greggs. I noticed a sign declaring a "zero tolerance" policy on the wall. It made me think that abuse towards staff must be becoming standard in local shops and emergency services. This got me thinking about the gravity of retail crime and its impact on workers.

Credit Source: Unison

Disturbingly, after a little search online, I found that violence and abuse against retail workers surged by 50% to an alarming 1,300 incidents daily up to September 2023, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC). Moreover, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported over 365,000 shoplifting offences in the year to June 2023, pinpointing theft as a prime catalyst for this violence. A survey by the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (Usdaw) paints a grim picture: out of 3,082 workers, 65% endured verbal abuse, 43% faced threats, and one in six suffered assaults. Financially, retailers are bleeding, with losses reaching a record £1.8 billion due to shoplifting.


Comparatively, the NHS isn't spared either. The 2022 NHS Staff Survey revealed that 14.7% of respondents experienced physical violence from patients or the public, with ambulance staff and those in mental health facing the brunt of this aggression.

This epidemic of violence begs the question: Has Britain become an angry nation? Prime Minister Rishi Sunak asserts that "our local shops are the lifeblood of our communities," announcing new measures to combat retail crime. This includes making an assault on shop workers a specific criminal offence, a move previously resisted but now embraced, acknowledging the tireless campaign by business leaders and workers for better protection. This law follows Scotland's lead, where such a measure has been in effect since 2021.

Credit Source: NHS

Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper points out that this is an overdue action that Labour has championed for over a decade. The new offence stipulates up to six months in prison, unlimited fines, and possible bans from offending shops for culprits. Serial offenders face electronic monitoring.

Despite these steps, I can't help but ponder the actual effectiveness of such laws without proper police enforcement and effective sentencing. The Retail Trust's survey, involving over 1,600 workers from companies like Tesco and H&M, found nearly half feeling unsafe, with many incidents unreported due to past police inaction.

Credit Source & Copyright: Greggs

Posters in establishments like Greggs and across the NHS implore respect and kindness towards staff, reminding us that abuse is "not part of the job." Yet, the pervasive issue of retail and public sector worker abuse reflects deeper societal issues that merit urgent attention.

As business owners and citizens, we must consider if Britain's increasingly hostile environment requires more than just legislative action. Have you noticed a rise in abusive behaviour in your business? How are you protecting your staff? I'm eager to hear your thoughts and strategies. Is Britain angry, or are we just witnessing the symptoms of broader societal stresses? Let's discuss below.

Main Image Source & Copyright: Greggs PLC