Violence and abuse against shopworkers surged last year and gathered pace further as the enforcement of coronavirus measures such as face masks and social distancing fuelled more incidents, according to new research.
The latest annual report into retail crime by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) revealed there were 455 incidents of violence and abuse every day in the year to March 2020.
It reflects a 7% jump in incidents from the previous year but sector leaders have said the situation has only worsened following the pandemic.
Tom Ironside, director of business and regulation at the BRC, said: “These figures don’t cover the vast majority of the pandemic, but we have had a lot of information shared to show there was a trigger point caused by the virus and rule enforcement.
“That was sometimes issues between customers calling each other out, or when shop floor colleagues had to enforce rules. It was a huge challenge for the retail workforce.”
Iona Blake, security and incident manager at Boots UK, said: “Frustrations and anxieties about Covid clearly became issues on the shop floor.
“We saw particular instances of abuse against East Asian staff members as a result of Covid, for example, with it fuelling that racial hate.”
Retailers said they also saw spitting used as a form of violence towards employees following the spread of the virus.
Nevertheless, abuse had been on the increase before the pandemic, with the data highlighting a more-than-50% rise since 2016-17.
The report also revealed that only 54% of incidents were raised with the police due to concerns over inaction, with just 6% of all incidents resulting in prosecution.
Paul Gerrard, director of campaigns and public affairs at the Co-op, said the retailer has also seen a increase in the level of violence being committed.
He said five staff members were attacked with weapons during the year, including one worker who “lost an eye after being attacked with a medieval mace”.
“It’s not just increasing levels but increasing violence in those incidents,” Mr Gerrard added.
“It is especially concerning as the response from police has also got worse so there is a clear need for wider action here.”
The report also showed that retail crime has cost companies around £2.5 billion over the year, with almost £1 billion of this the direct cost of customer theft.
BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said: “Will retail workers in England and Wales ever receive the protection they deserve?
“Despite clear evidence showing the escalation of violence and abuse against retail workers, the Government has time and time again chosen not to act.
“These are not mere statistics – those affected are our parents, our partners and our children, all who needlessly suffer, just for doing their job.
“Many incidents arise as staff carry out their legal duties, including age verification and, more recently, implementing Covid safety measures.
“And, despite retailers spending enormous sums on crime prevention, the situation is only getting worse.”