Co-operative Party Conference 2018, Bristol. (c) Natasha Hirst Photography

Already this year 42,000 violent and abusive incidents have happened in retail, meaning everyday 115 shopworkers are attacked at work. It’s a situation that is getting worse, with more violence than ever, and many attacks involving weapons.

This is the current scale of retail crime, but that description can often hide the impact on individual shopworkers. This isn’t about businesses – this is about people. During the summer over 600 co-operative workers shared their stories with the Home Office, as part of their call for evidence to look at options for addressing these crimes.

We had a shoplifter come into the store, clearly high on drugs. He had a medieval mace on a chain and was swinging it around and began attacking a colleague and myself. The mace struck my colleague in the face and ripped apart her check, tore off her nose, and damaged her eye so much she lost sight in that eye.

The rise in violent crime in our shops and communities is just one symptom of years of underinvestment in our police and justice system. Whilst 20,000 extra police is welcome, the effect of austerity on drug and alcohol services and preventative work, will still leave the burden on the police. With 70% of shop theft committed by frequent users of Class A drugs, there is an opportunity to break the cycle of crime, that the government has yet to grapple with.

This week the Co-op Group launched their report from Dr Emmeline Taylor, looking at the depth of this issue, the impact it has but also issues us with a stark warning that without action we risk such violence and abuse becoming an acceptable norm. The report makes a number of recommendations including supporting USDAW’s call for increased sentences for when workers are trying to uphold the law on age-restricted sales.

There are over 50 types of products that are now restricted by law, and 1 in 5 violent attacks are triggered by shop workers trying to enforce the law. It’s time for a new deal with better protections and a change in expectations for those that work in retail, as despite this abuse and violence, shopworkers are personally liable if they sell the product.

We face most of our abuse when verifying a person’s age when buying age-restricted products, Colleagues have been reduced to tears due to this abuse. One man threatened to rape me, and another time, I was punched in the face by a fully grown man and suffered jaw injuries.

In the absence of government action, there are already practical examples of our movement trying to tackle the causes of this crime, for example, the Co-op Group have partnered with the Damilola Taylor Trust, sponsoring a programme that helps young people acquire skills to help them find employment. And Central England Co-operative gives its most prolific shoplifters the chance to change by funding drug detox programmes.

Now is the time for action, from government as well, before this level of violence becomes acceptable in communities.

Join us at Labour Party Conference:
Safer Communities, Safer Shopworkers (The Co-operative Party and The Co-op)

With Paddy Lillis, USDAW; Jo Whitfield, The Co-op; James Lowman, The Association of Convenience Store; Emmeline Taylor, City University.

12pm, Monday 23rd September, Room GB2 at the Grand Hotel.