Improving protections for retail workers

How MPs are representing retail workers in the House of Commons

“I was inappropriately touched by a customer today. I told my manager who said there was nothing they could do, and sent me home for the day”
“We are threatened on a daily basis with hypodermic needles, flick knives, my colleagues have been headbutted and punched. Shoplifters feel it is their right to assault us. We get little or no help. No after support from the police and little aftercare from our company.”
Andrea, Sheffield
“I have been racially abused, verbally abused and even had someone come into mine and my manager's faces threatening us. The police did not turn up when we called them. Nothing was done any time over the years this has happened that I've worked in retail.”

Listening to retail workers

Digital debate

In February 2020, retail workers from across the country told the House of Commons about the threats, abuse and violence they face at work.

They did this to inform a debate led by Mike Amesbury MP on improving protections for retail workers.

He wanted to understand their experiences, specifically:

  • If they had been assaulted or felt threatened at work
  • The action taken, or support given by their employer
  • Any changes they would make to improve their safety

To reach them, the House of Commons Digital Engagement Team worked with retail-worker-turned-author Rob Knott. He runs communities on social media for retail workers to share stories and discuss workplace issues.

The pages have a combined reach of nearly 382k people.

Image of author and retail worker Rob Knott

Rob Knott

Rob Knott

Common issues:

  • Many respondents described traumatic incidents of being assaulted, threatened, and verbally abused.
  • The support offered by employers was described as inadequate, uncompassionate, and generally lacking.
  • There was a sense that abuse was “just part of the job”. 

The debate

© UK Parliament

© UK Parliament

“Some of the responses received were absolutely shocking: stories of employees being racially abused, watching colleagues being stabbed and punched, and even being held at gunpoint.”  
Mike Amesbury MP

During the debate, Mike went on to quote several respondents’ experiences:

Other MPs from across the political parties spoke during the debate. The Minister for Crime, Policing and the Fire Service Kit Malthouse MP responded to the debate, setting out the Government's position.

Watch the full debate:

Full debate transcript on Hansard.

Following the debate, someone who contributed told us what it was like to share their story:  

Further action in Parliament 

The day after the debate, Alex Norris MP asked the Prime Minister about the Government’s call for evidence on violence towards retail staff.

Read the full exchange on Hansard.

Alex Norris MP then introduced a Private Members’ Bill under the Ten Minute Rule.

View the transcript of the full speech.

His Assaults on Retail Workers (Offences) Bill 2019-21 seeks to: 'make certain offences, including malicious wounding, grievous or actual bodily harm and common assault, aggravated when perpetrated against a retail worker in the course of their employment', and 'to make provision about the sentencing of persons convicted of such aggravated offences'.

Government consultation

How the issues are being addressed

Call for evidence

In April 2019, the Government launched a call for evidence on violence and abuse toward shop staff. The aim was "to enable the government to understand the true scale of the issue of violence and abuse toward shop staff, the measures which may help prevent these crimes and the extent to which existing legislation is being used to tackle them, and to identify examples of best practice".

The Government's response to the call for evidence was published in July 2020. Introducing the response, the Minister for Crime and Policing stated:

"This Government recognises that the abuse and physical violence faced by shop staff can have a significant impact on their health, not only physically but mentally and emotionally. Shops are the beating heart of our communities and neighbourhoods, and never more so than in recent months during the coronavirus pandemic.
"Immediately after the Government introduced measures to control the spread of the virus, shop staff worked tirelessly to keep the nation fed while implementing social distancing measures to keep the public safe. As restrictions have eased, and more shops and businesses have reopened, they have continued to make sure that people can shop safely to help get the economy moving again. I thank them for their hard work and stress how important it is that those working in shops should be free of the fear of violence or intimidation."
Kit Malthouse MP

Actions to be taken:

To address the issues raised, the Government have grouped its main actions into three themes:

  • To deepen its understanding and address the drivers of violence and assault against shop workers
  • To send a clear message that such crimes are not tolerated and should be recorded whenever and wherever they take place
  • To provide effective support to those shop workers who are the victims of violence and abuse.

For the details on how each of these will be carried out, see the summary of actions on page 19 of its response to the consultation.

Outside of Parliament

Two reports have examined the issues in more detail, shining a spotlight on current policy and the nature of retail worker abuse:

In September 2019, the Co-operative Group published a report, ‘It’s not part of the job’: Violence and verbal abuse towards shop workers: A review of evidence and policy', written by Dr Emmeline Taylor.

According to the report, violence in the sector is at its highest level since 2012. In the first two months of 2020, 100 retail workers faced abuse each day and 12 were violently attacked.

In March 2020, the British Retail Consortium published its annual retail crime survey, which claimed that:

  • Retail workers face increased threats of violence and abuse in the workplace
  • Aside from the impact on the workers themselves, this costs law enforcement and retailers over £5 billion.

(Image: British Retail Consortium, 2020)

They have set out recommendations for reform, aiming to:

  • Reduce the amount lost to theft and damage
  • Reduce the impact of fraud
  • Improve the police response to violence and abuse.

Get involved

Image of UK Parliament

Future debates are listed on the House of Commons calendar. If a debate topic is of interest to you, you could contact your MP, tell them about your experience, and ask them to attend.

Follow the House of Commons on Facebook for your chance to contribute to an exercise like this one.

A petition to "Protect Retail Workers from Abuse, Threats and Violence" recently passed 60,000 signatures.

There were 95 references made to retail workers in Parliament between 2015 and 2020. If you have a particular interest, you can search Hansard to see if it has been raised in Parliament.

The House of Commons Library has published a quick-read briefing on the prevention of retail crime. The Library provides impartial impartial analysis, statistical research and resources to help MPs and their staff scrutinise legislation, develop policy, and support constituents.

Parliament is currently closed to visitors due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but you can attend a 360° virtual tour of the estate with one of our visitor guides.

Thank you to everyone who made contributions to the debate.

Please follow the House of Commons on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for your chance to contribute to future debates.

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