Violence and abuse towards shop workers is ‘endemic’ and has worsened during lockdown – with almost 90% of retail staff suffering verbal attacks in the past year, MPs are told

  • Almost nine in ten retail staff said they had suffered verbal abuse in the last year
  • Retail industry union Usdaw said violence and threats had become ‘endemic’
  • Research suggests trigger points were mostly related to social distancing, wearing face masks and queueing

Violence and abuse towards shop workers is ‘endemic’ and has worsened since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, MPs have heard.

Almost nine in ten retail staff have said they suffered verbal abuse in the last year, with 60 per cent having reported threats of physical violence, and 9 per cent said they had been physically assaulted.

The shocking figures came from a survey of 2,700 workers by the retail industry’s trade union Usdaw.

Joanne Cairns, the union’s head of research and economics told the Commons Home Affairs Committee the issue is a ‘major concern for us’.

Almost nine in ten retail staff have said they suffered verbal abuse in the last year, with 60 per cent having reported threats of physical violence, and 9 per cent said they had been physically assaulted (stock photo)

She added: ‘This has been endemic for some time and it has worsened since the beginning of the Covid crisis.’

She said safety measures required as a result of the pandemic have overtaken the most common triggers in previous years, with some 85 per cent of incidents related to issues such as queueing, social distancing and the requirement for face masks.

Alison Chown, a supermarket worker from Huddersfield, says the verbal abuse has become part and parcel of her job – with ‘everything’ causing conflict in the intense environment.

She says she now dreads going to work – claiming abusive customers shout at her when she asks them to keep a safe distance. 

‘Everything causes conflict, from asking people to wear a mask to offering hand sanitiser when they enter the store,’ Alison explained.

Alison Chown, a supermarket worker from Huddersfield, says the verbal abuse has become part and parcel of her job – with ‘everything’ causing conflict in the intense environment

‘I get customers shouting and waving their arms at me when I ask them to keep a safe distance.

‘You shouldn’t be going to work dreading who you’re going to come across, but it’s sad to say that this is part of the job at the moment. We know it’s going to happen.’

James Lowman, chief executive of the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS), said Covid has become ‘another trigger’ for shop violence.

Some 400,000 violent incidents were reported in convenience stores last year, with more than 10,000 of them involving a weapon.

Ms Cairns said current legislation is ‘clearly not offering enough protection’ to shop workers.

James Lowman, chief executive of the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS), said Covid has become ‘another trigger’ for shop violence, with staff now resorting to body cameras to protect themselves (stock photo)

‘I think it’s important to remember that we expect retail workers to enforce the law, but they are not being given adequate protection.

‘They can lose their jobs if they don’t enforce the law so, in turn, we think they should be offered protection by the law.’

Iona Blake, security and incident manager at Boots UK, told MPs that spitting and the use of face coverings by offenders to avoid capture have become two Covid-related areas of concern.

‘Spitting has been a real concern. It’s something we haven’t really experienced before, and it is continuing,’ she said.

She added that the retailer has been ‘well supported’ by police in relation to spitting incidents but ‘sadly not as well supported by the justice system further down the line’. 

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