Shop abuse on the rise as 92% of workers report verbal abuse during pandemic

Video report by ITV News Meridian's Tom Savvides

Verbal abuse, threats and physical attacks on shop workers has risen during the pandemic.

Shocking CCTV footage shows one example, where three men storm a shop in Sittingbourne and assault staff.

Sue Esders from Aldershot has worked in a supermarket for 23 years and says the abuse she and her colleagues have experienced in the last year is the worst she's ever known.

She said: "My colleague helped the security guard and he was pushed to the floor and ended up with a broken ankle.

"We've had a lady security guard punched in the face because a shoplifter was trying to get out. We've had lots of things, abuse, swearing at us and they just think it's normal."

The problem has led the shopworkers' union, Usdaw, to start a campaign called Freedom from Fear.

Usdaw is calling on the government to introduce laws to protect those who work in retail.

Doug Russell, Health and Safety union officer at Usdaw, said: "I'm glad to say the Scottish government has listened to that call.

"They have introduced the Protection of Workers Act which comes into force this week.

"The difficulty we've got is that the Westminster government, for its own reasons, is dragging its heels and is not agreeing to change and bring the same protection in for workers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland."

With lockdown restrictions lifted, many of us are heading back into shops, restaurants and cafes.

However, tempers can fray as more customers hit the streets and in some cases less staff to deal with them, because of furlough and self-isolation.

More of us are heading out to the shops after restrictions eased Credit: ITV News Meridian

Tudor Price, Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce, said: "We had of course the post-pandemic recovery phase where many employers, retailers in particular, are slowly bringing staff back in from furlough, so they tend to be under resourced.

"We also have a growing labour shortage in certain industries and we have that change in social convention at the moment. No one is quite sure whether we're meant to be wearing masks or not."

A Home Office spokesperson said: “It is completely unacceptable to threaten or assault front-line workers, not least when they are working so hard to keep vital services running.

“We are putting 20,000 extra police officers into our communities to cut crime – including retail crime – and we launched the #ShopKind campaign in April to provide better support to victims and encourage customers to treat shopworkers with dignity and respect.

“The Sentencing Council has set out guidelines which means courts should increase sentences for assaults committed against all those providing a service to the public.”