Usdaw union reports shocking extent of violent attacks on shop staff in "epidemic of retail crime"

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now
New figures have revealed a sharp increase in abusive behaviour towards shop workers over the past few years - with 18 per cent of retail staff violently attacked in the workplace last year.

Retail trade union Usdaw has today (13 March) launched shocking statistics from their annual survey of over 5,500 retail staff showing that 18 per cent of shopworkers suffered a violent attack last year, compared to eight per cent in 2022.

According to the union, the increase in assaults comes during an epidemic of retail crime with official stats and reports from retailers showing significant increases in theft from shops. The survey also found the number of incidents has come down since the exceptionally high levels during the pandemic, but remain higher than pre-Covid levels in 2019. In the last twelve months (pre-pandemic levels in brackets, from the 2019 survey):

Hide Ad
Hide Ad
  • 70% (68%) have experienced verbal abuse.

  • 46% (43%) were threatened by a customer.

  • 18% (5%) were assaulted.

 Those surveryed by the union reported variously being spat on, threatened at knife-point, pushed and swung at, and one even reported being attacked with a machete.

The report, which is available to read here, comes after Hampshire and Isle of Wight Constabulary officers and police and crime commissioner Donna Jones pledged to crack down on shoplifting in Portsmouth city centre. Donna Jones previously told The News: “Over the last few years, people have been reporting to the police - and to me as their police and crime commissioner - that there has been an increase in shoplifting, and of course this makes people in high streets feel unsafe in their local community. My job as police and crime commissioner is to represent the public, and I’ve made it very clear that I will do everything in my power to tackle shoplifting and to make sure, for the chief constable, this is a priority for him and police officers across Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. We're sending a very clear message to criminals, and also to organised crime gangs who are shoplifting to order, that you will be caught, you will be brought to justice and it's no longer going to be seen as a crime that police do not respond to."

Pictured is: Police and Crime Commissioner Donna Jones in Commercial Road, Portsmouth, on Monday, March 4, 2024.Pictured is: Police and Crime Commissioner Donna Jones in Commercial Road, Portsmouth, on Monday, March 4, 2024.
Pictured is: Police and Crime Commissioner Donna Jones in Commercial Road, Portsmouth, on Monday, March 4, 2024. | Sarah Standing

Usdaw's findings follow similar trends to recent reports from British Retail Consortium and the Association of Convenience Stores. Both retail trade associations found significant increases in violence and abuse against shopworkers alongside much higher levels of shoplifting, which is costing the industry £3 billion in lost stock and security measures.

Paddy Lillis – Usdaw general secretary said: “No-one should feel afraid to go to work, but our evidence shows that too many retail workers are. It is shocking that nearly a fifth of our members working in retail are being assaulted for simply doing their job and serving the community. They provide an essential service and deserve our respect and the protection of the law.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

 “Our members have reported that they are often faced with hardened career criminals and we know that retail workers are much more likely to be abused by those who are stealing to sell goods on. Our latest survey results show that 7 in 10 retail workers suffered abuse from customers, with far too many experiencing threats and violence. Theft from shops and armed robbery were triggers for 61% of these incidents.

 “Violence and abuse is not an acceptable part of the job and much more needs to be done to protect shopworkers. The UK Government has repeatedly failed to act in the face of an epidemic of retail crime, rising theft from shops and assaults against retail workers. It is disappointing that they have no measures in their legislative programme to tackle this issue. We support opposition attempts to amend the Government’s Criminal Justice Bill, so that the law is strengthened to protect shopworkers from violence, threats and abuse.

 “A protection of shopworkers law is also supported by many retailers. It already exists in Scotland and has secured over 500 convictions. We also need more neighbourhood police with patrols in town centres, respect orders to ban repeat offenders and an end to the £200 threshold for investigating and prosecuting shop theft. Most of all, we ask the public to support our campaign by respecting shopworkers.”

Watch the video embedded in this article to see how police tackle shoplifting in Portsmouth.