Improved understanding of the underlying causes of the rise in violence and verbal abuse against retail staff and the effect this has on those working in retail.
Department: Department of Sociology and Criminology
There has been a significant increase in violence and verbal abuse against shop workers.
The Co-op approached Dr Emmeline Taylor and asked her to conduct research into violent crime against shop workers after noting a rise in incidents across the sector. They identified it as an industry-wide problem and wanted evidence of its impact on communities to present to the government.
Dr Taylor set out to understand the main scenarios that lead to violence and abuse against shop workers. Most importantly, she wanted to humanise the data.
Crimes are often reported as statistics, which hide the human consequences. Dr Taylor found shop workers often suffer severe mental health problems after violent attacks. This includes prolonged anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
She identified four main scenarios where violence and abuse are becoming more common:
- Encountering shoplifters
- Enforcing the law relating to the sale of age-restricted goods
- Hate-motivated incidents
- Armed and unarmed robberies.
According to figures from the Home Office’s Commercial Victimisation Survey, assaults and threats against staff in the wholesale and retail sector increased almost three-fold between 2016 and 2017.
Retail crime is severely under-reported to police. As a result, it doesn’t receive the prominence it deserves. The Co-op recognised this.
When the Home Office announced it was launching a consultation into violence against shop workers, The Co-op wanted to contribute. Dr Taylor’s research was completed in just six months to ensure it was submitted as part of this consultation.
With assistance from the retailer, Dr Taylor carried out interviews with shop workers who had suffered violent incidents or sustained ongoing abuse. She also interviewed offenders to understand their perspective and find out what triggers them to become violent.
By speaking to people from both groups, Dr Taylor has created actionable recommendations on how to tackle the rising levels of violence in shops. These recommendations are not only for the retail industry, but also the government and communities.
The Co-op is running a campaign entitled Safer Colleagues, Safer Communities. As part of this campaign, the Co-op is leading the industry in lobbying the government to do more to tackle violence against shop workers.
Dr Taylor’s research is central to this. It’s highly relevant and shows the issue of violence against retail staff goes far beyond the retail environment.
The recommendations in the report could lead to meaningful, evidence-based changes and new legislation. Dr Taylor’s research revealed a range of issues contributing to this surge in violent and abusive behaviour.
Rising homelessness, cuts to drug and alcohol services, inadequate mental health provision, cuts to youth services. These are all contributing factors. Tackling the root causes at a community level is essential to reduce the levels of violence and abuse experienced by retail staff.
As a community-based retailer, The Co-op sees these problems first-hand. The retailer wants to bring communities together and sees its stores as an important part of these communities.
Future plans and benefits
The report was presented at the House of Commons in September 2019. Dr Taylor and The Co-op have also presented their findings at the Conservative and Labour party conferences.
They continue to use the research to raise awareness of the scale of the problem and the ongoing impact it has on retail workers.
The outcome of the Home Office consultation is expected later in 2019. But The Co-op’s campaign has been gathering momentum. It’s hoped that this research will translate into policy changes in the future.
Dr Taylor and The Co-op want to keep the spotlight on this issue. As a result, the retailer has asked her to conduct further research exploring one of the social issues she identified in greater depth.
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