During the Covid-19 pandemic, retail workers were rightly afforded a place on the Government’s list of key workers, demonstrating the vital service they and retailers provided both during this period of unprecedented challenge and beyond. But sadly, all too often the treatment they received at the hands of customers in the workplace didn’t reflect their importance to us all.

Violence, threats and abuse are a frequent experience in their work, and levels of this behaviour only increased during the pandemic period, when the challenges they faced were already heightened.

Such behaviour has always been absolutely unacceptable, and it was imperative that we in the co-operative movement did our bit to address it.

That’s why, along with co-operative retail societies and colleagues in the trade union movement at USDAW, the Co-operative Party worked to mirror the successes achieved in Scotland by MSP Daniel Johnson by securing changes to legislation in Westminster that now has made assaulting public-facing workers like shop workers a specific aggravated offense.

This is a vital change that can make a real difference in tackling this scourge, but there’s still more work to be done.

As the Labour and Co-operative Police and Crime Commissioner for Northumbria, I’ve looked to continue our co-operative solutions-based approach to help solve the problem.

Here in Northumbria, we’ve been looking at how we support staff against this behaviour, but we’ve gone further, too.

We’ve been working with local Co-op stores to understand more about why those who perpetrate this behaviour do so, and by addressing the root causes of the problem, we can give them the treatment and support that they need to break that habit – potentially even giving them roles in the store.

This is a project we’re just starting out on, and one we’re particularly proud of: it demonstrates just how by being focused on making the changes required, a real difference can be made. I’m looking forward to providing an update as it progresses.

And allied with the successes already achieved by our movement, it’s initiatives like this one and others across the UK that are they key to reducing retail crime.

That’s why earlier this week, I chaired a meeting bringing together Co-operative Police and Crime Commissioners, members of the Co-op Group and independent co-operative retail societies, and representatives from USDAW to discuss this issue further.

By sharing best practice from our different regions, working closely together, and focusing on finding solutions, we can continue to stand up for retail workers and put our co-operative principles and values in practice by making a real difference where it matters most.