As House of Lords debate policing bill, government urged to act on shop crime

Representational Image

With the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is set for the second reading in the House of Lords today, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) has called on the government to indicate in the debate that it will honour the commitment it made in the House of Commons to address the issues of rising violence and abuse against shop workers and ensure that they have better protection under the law.

The trade body urged the government to pass legislation that would make assaulting or abusing a retail worker a specific offence, with tougher sentences for offenders. This would act as a deterrent and ensure retail workers feel safer, and would increase visibility of incidents so that police forces can allocate appropriate resources and ensure they provide an adequate response, it noted.

“We need legislation in England and Wales to protect our hard-working retail colleagues. It makes no sense nor is it remotely fair that people who work in retail are better protected in Dundee than they are in Doncaster,” Helen Dickinson OBE, Chief Executive of the British Retail Consortium, said.

Last month, the new Protection of Workers (Retail and Age-restricted Goods and Services) Act 2021 came into force in Scotland after it was unanimously passed by the Scottish Parliament.

Violence and abuse against retail workers is getting worse by the year with 455 incidents every day in 2019-20, a 7% rise on the previous year. Incidents have soared since the pandemic as staff have tried to ensure customers follow Covid-19 rules. Other flashpoints include challenging shoplifters or asking customers for ID when they are purchasing age restricted items. The rise in incidents is despite a record £1.2 billion investment in safety measures such as body-worn cameras, more security personnel and panic alarms.

“The current laws simply do not go far enough. Most offenders go unpunished, while victims and their families are left traumatised. We cannot let another year to go by with rising crime statistics and a mounting pile of deplorable stories of violence and abuse in shops. The government needs to act, and deliver on its commitment to protect retail workers,” Dickinson added.

There is wide support for legislation to better protect retail workers across Parliament with 55 MPs signing the BRC’s Shopworker Protection Pledge. The Home Affairs Select Committee’s recently recommended that we need “extra protections” in the law to keep retail workers safe from a “shocking upsurge in violence and abuse”.

During the third reading of bill in the House of Commons, Home Office minister Victoria Atkins has said the government is “actively considering” an amendment in the Lords on protection for shop workers.

“I make it clear that we want to assure my hon. Friend and Members of all parties that we are not complacent about the matter and that we are actively considering tabling an amendment, if appropriate, in the Lords,” she has said.

The government has reiterated this in its response to the Home Affairs Select Committee report last week, adding that it will also take the Scottish law into consideration.

“In response to an amendment tabled to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill on 5 July 2021, the Minister for Safeguarding, Victoria Atkins MP committed to consider an amendment in the Lords if appropriate. We will take into account the text of the Protection of Workers (Retail and Age-restricted Goods and Services) (Scotland) Act 2021 in our consideration,” the government response stated.