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Retail crime is rising under the Tories and it is putting shopworkers at risk

3 min read

Labour MP David Hanson writes ahead of his debate on prevention of retail crime.

It’s not often that you have Usdaw – the UK’s fifth largest trade union who represents retail staff – the Association of Convenience Stores, the British Retail Consortium, the National Federation of Retail Newsagents, and the Co-operative Group all agreeing, but that is where we find ourselves on the issue of retail crime. 

Official figures demonstrate that retail theft crimes are rising year on year, with an overall increase of 19.1% between 2014-18. During 2017-18 there were 382,100 reported incidents of shoplifting offences. However, the British Retail Consortium’s report into retail crime show that there were 3.6million incidences. Meaning that only 15% of shoplifting crime is actually reported to the police.

But retail crime produces much more than a financial cost; it has a very real human cost. Retail staff are at the forefront of this crisis in crime. They are responsible under law to monitor and police the sale of age-related goods and are seen by some employers to be responsible for protecting the goods in the shops. Shopworkers are therefore vulnerable to verbal abuse and violence.

Sadly, the rise in retail crime has been mirrored by a rise in attacks and violence against retail workers. On average, 115 retail employees are attacked every day. Meaning 42,000 people have been abused for doing their job. An utter silence by the UK Government on this issue has been deafening.

Usdaw undertake an annual survey of its members to see how many people experience violence and abuse. In its most recent survey it found that a staggering 64% of shopworkers experienced verbal abuse and 40% were threatened by a customer. When asked what the triggers were for these attacks the survey found that 25% were related to shop theft; 22% were age-related sales and 21% were related to the sale of alcohol.

With such a large proportion of attacks being linked to the policing of age-related sales it is only right that shopworkers get protection in law against violence. Currently, there is no aggravated offence for attacking someone who is carrying out their statutory duty to check someone’s age. But if a member of staff in a shop fails to stop an underage sale it could land them with a fine of up to £20,000. When people are expected to enforce our laws, they should also be protected by them.

I was able to secure a public consultation on attacks on shopworkers with the Home Office. The consultation is open until 11pm on 28 June 2019 and people can provide their response here. We need as many people and businesses as possible to provide evidence to the Home Office so that are case for workers’ rights is strengthened.

There are many ways we can tackle retail crime. When I was Policing and Justice Minister in the last Labour Government we undertook a three-pronged approach: sustainable police officer numbers; Neighbourhood Policing; and Drug/Alcohol rehabilitation orders. Sadly, the current government has overseen a collapse in all three. We have 21,000 fewer police officers than 2010; a reduced ability to undertake community focused Neighbourhood Policing and drug treatment orders have fallen from over 16,000 in 2007-08 to a mere 4,889 in 2018.  

The debate taking place in Parliament on retail crime is a fantastic opportunity for MPs from all parties to stand up for retail workers in their constituencies. The largest private sector employer is retail and it is high time that the UK Government gave shopworkers the freedom from fear they deserve.

David Hanson is the Labour MP for Delyn

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