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Call for stiffer penalties

Violent crime now wiping out 20% of retailers’ profits

Helen Dickinson

Helen Dickinson: ‘one of the most pressing issues’


Violent attacks and cybercrime are now wiping out 20% of retailers profits as a survey revealed that 115 shopworkers are assaulted across the UK every day, nine in Scotland.

The total cost of crime and crime prevention for retailers was £1.9 billion last year, up 12% from the previous year (£1.7bn) and equivalent to a fifth of the estimated profits of the entire retail industry.

This was made up of £900 million direct cost from retail crime, and £1bn spent in efforts to prevent crime. The direct costs of crime included a £700 million loss arising from customer theft, a 31% rise on the previous year. The use of knives by assailants was pointed out as an issue of significant concern and a union official has called for stiffer penalties.

Despite the rise in offences, 70% of respondents described the police response to retail crime as poor or very poor. And while opinions showed the police response was generally better for violent incidents, as compared to customer theft or fraud, only 20% of respondents considered the response good or excellent. 

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said: “Violence against employees remains one of the most pressing issues retailers face, yet once again we have seen an increase in the overall number of incidents. Such crimes harm not just hardworking employees, but also on their families and communities. No one should go to work fearing threats and abuse.

“The spiralling cost of retail crime – both in losses and the cost of prevention – are a huge burden to a retail sector that is already weighed down by the twin challenges of skyrocketing business costs and Brexit uncertainty.

“We hope this report will act as a catalyst for Police and Crime Commissioners around the country to take action. Retail crime should be explicitly addressed by Police and Crime Plans. Furthermore, Parliament must play its part in stemming this tide of crime by creating a specific criminal offence to protect retail employees from assault at work, as has been done for emergency workers.”

Ewan MacDonald-Russell, head of policy at the Scottish Retail Consortium, said: Violent or abusive behaviour towards Scottish shop workers is completely unacceptable. This survey reveals the rate of abuse continues to rise with nine Scottish shopworkers a day facing abuse; despite continuing investment by our members.

“Feedback in the survey indicates a correlation between the most serious assaults and purchases of statutory restricted products. Recent years have seen more duties placed on shop workers, which is making them more at risk in these situations. That’s very concerning, and why we believe the legislative proposals from Daniel Johnson MSP deserve consideration to ensure everything possible is being done to protect these workers.” 

Retailers are spending 17% more on cyber-security than last year (£162m), and nearly 80% of the retailers surveyed have seen an increase in the number of cyber attacks. 

Clare Gardiner, the National Cyber Security Centre’s Director of Engagement, said: The NCSC is committed to helping to improve the UK’s cyber security, which is why we have worked in partnership with the British Retail Consortium to produce the BRC Cyber Security Toolkit.” 

Paddy Lillis – Usdaw General Secretary said: “Life on the frontline of retail can be pretty tough for many shopworkers and there is still a lot to do to help protect them. We launched our Freedom From Fear Campaign in the face of growing concerns amongst retail staff about violence, threats and abuse. The campaign works with employers to promote respect and make shops safer for staff.

“It is time for the Government to act by providing stiffer penalties for those who assault workers; a simple stand-alone offence that is widely recognised and understood by the public, police, CPS, the judiciary and most importantly criminals. Shopworkers are on the frontline of helping to keep our communities safe, they have a crucial role that must be valued and respected.”

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