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Policing Bill should introduce a standalone offence and 12-month prison sentence for abuse against retail workers

3 min read

2020 saw a spike in abuse, threats, and violence against retail workers. But whilst the Tories shockingly fail to get a grip of the crisis, Labour have a readymade solution to deter offenders, break the cycle of abuse and deliver justice to victims.

There is a growing epidemic in the heart of our communities, one of abuse and violence against retail workers who kept our country moving and our families fed during the pandemic.

If you are in any doubt as to the scale of the problem across the country, last year research conducted by USDAW found 88% of retail workers experienced verbal abuse, almost two thirds were threatened by a customer, and 300,000 out of a three million strong workforce were assaulted. A staggering rise on 2019 levels, equating to 455 incidents of violence and abuse against shopworkers each day. 

Yet only 6% of these incidents result in prosecution. Little wonder a quarter of cases go unreported altogether.

The situation is shocking and untenable. This is a crisis with an actual solution available to tackle and deter unacceptable behaviour and violence and deliver justice for victims. Yet time and time again, the Conservative government fails to act to protect vital frontline retail workers who have been at the forefront of the pandemic helping serve our communities.

No one should be treated with disrespect - spat at, bitten, grabbed, sexually harassed, or discriminated against at work

Labour has put the option for real progress on the table - an amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, creating a standalone offence and a 12-month prison sentence for abuse, threats, and violence against retail workers. 

We are ready to do what is necessary because no one should be treated with disrespect - spat at, bitten, grabbed, sexually harassed, or discriminated against at work. 

No one should have to mentally prepare before a shift to face abuse or be forced to take self-defence classes because the law and criminal justice system fails to adequately protect them. 

Retail workers should not have to wear body cameras in fear of abuse or being let down by authorities, nor should they have to take time off on the sick because of the trauma or injuries sustained in violent attacks. Yet they do.

The omission of protecting retail workers in the Police, Crime, Sentencing, and Courts Bill is a damning failure of the UK government to listen to voices from the frontline, to recognise the exponential rise in abuse of retail staff and to protect them.

Heroes like Ian Robson from Gateshead who was dragged and punched repeatedly with a knuckle-duster after asking a customer to wear a facemask.   

A shopworker in Northamptonshire had part of their ear bitten off and often have needles pulled out on them instore, or another spat in the face and headbutted.

Retail workers deserve dignity and respect at work. Labour MPs past and present have campaigned to improve the conditions for millions of retail staff to make that so. But all attempts have been thwarted by consecutive Conservative governments, including the incumbent government, which has maintained ‘it does not consider that the case is yet made for a change in the law’.

The same government consultation which reads like a charge sheet of Conservatives failings over the past decade, from mishandling the criminal justice system, cuts to police funding, to a gross failure to bring forward legislation such as the long awaited Victims’ Bill.

It’s time the Conservative government stop letting offenders off the hook and work with Labour to end this epidemic of violence by ensuring workers are protected and the system delivers justice for victims.


Anna McMorrin is the Labour MP for Cardiff North and shadow Minister for victims and youth justice. Sarah Jones is the Labour MP for Croydon Central and shadow minister for policing.

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