The rise in retail crime over the past year is truly worrying. Our shopworkers are being put at risk and local shops are facing a the costs associated with it. Since last year, retail crime has increased from a total direct cost of £660 million to just over £700 million. This is money that is being lost due to criminals and stops employers from investing in our communities.
I have been working with the Co-Op and Usdaw – the shopworkers trade union – to raise awareness of the need for a plan to tackle this shocking rise. I asked the Leader of the House if she will give time for a debate on retail crime so that I can hold the UK Government to account for their reckless cuts to policing and security measures in our towns and villages.
No one should have to go to work in fear. I want the Government to combat this head on so we can fulfil our promise to retail staff that they have freedom from fear.
The Offensive Weapons Bill brings in new offences for people trying to buy bladed weapons or acids who are under-age. This came about due to the rise in violent crime across the UK.
However, this Bill would put in place new responsibilities for shopworkers to police this law but gave them no new protections if they are attacked when do so. That is why I put forward a New Clause which would make it an aggravated offence to attack a shopworker who is checking someones age or refusing them the sale.
I am supported by Usdaw, the Co-Op, ACS, the BRC, the Police and Crime Commissioner for Nottinghamshire Police and the National Federation of Retail Newsagents. The only people not supporting my New Clause is the UK Government.
The Government has promised to meet with me and all those supporting me to see if they will introduce these much needed legal protections. If they fail to accept my demands then I will reintroduce my amendments in the House of Lords with a colleague. This is far from over.
I have demonstrated my support for Respect for Shopworkers Week when I visited the Co-op store in Leeswood on 16 November.
During my visit to the store on Queen Street, I discussed local community safety issues with store staff and heard about the Co-op’s operational programme to help tackle crime.
As part of its commitment to colleague safety and community well-being, the Co-op is backing the shopworkers’ union USDAW’s campaign and the Respect for Shopworkers Week.
I am also trying to change the law through amending the Offensive Weapons Bill. His New Clause 1 would see protections in place for shop workers who are attacked whilst checking the age of someone trying to purchase age restricted items listed within the Offensive Weapons Bill. The Bill is currently at its Report Stage in the House of Commons.
Shop workers face an unprecedented level of threat from violent incidents as each day across the UK six are threatened with a knife and two with a gun. Recent figures show that across the country violent, weaponised crimes is on the rise with a 16% increase in incidents involving knives. My new clause would bring into being new protections for shop workers from those who threaten them with violence. The UK Government needs to accept this to ensure workers are free from fear in the workplace.
Products can be replaced and stores repaired, but violent crime in shops often has a shocking, and lasting, impact on those working at the frontline. That is why I am backing this important initiative as we must all do everything we can to help reduce these attacks.
Paul Gerrard, Director of Campaigns at the Co-op, said: “Retail crime is often considered to be victimless as people think it only involves a faceless business losing stock or money. However, it is not the shop that is left bruised, bleeding or traumatised. This type of crime has nothing to do with profit and everything to do with people.
“In the months ahead, we’ll be looking to work with local community groups and other neighbourhood leaders who are engaged in tackling the root causes of crime, to see if we can identify mutual solutions to shared concerns.”
As a former shopworker for the Co-Op I know the difficulty retail workers face when dealing with customers who want to buy products which they are not old enough to purchase.
This Bill would bring into law welcomed restrictions on corrosive acid and knives to help tackle the rise in the use of these weapons in attacks. We have all heard the terrible cases where acid is thrown in people’s faces and the rapid rise in knife crime in metropolitan areas. I welcome this Bill in trying to do something about it.
However, it will also mean that shopworkers are responsible for assessing if someone is allowed to buy the products. These are the very same people who may have intent to attack someone with the product. But the Bill has no extra protections for retail workers in undertaking this task.
We must ensure that shopworkers have a freedom from fear when they go to work. Bringing into force a new offence of attacking a retail worker would do just that.
I was encouraged by the Home Secretary’s remarks and hope that I can work across the party divide for retail staff.