Retail Crime — [Mr Laurence Robertson in the Chair]

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 1:30 pm on 11th April 2019.

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Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Labour, Delyn 1:30 pm, 11th April 2019

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered prevention of retail crime.

I welcome you to the Chair, Mr Robertson. I thank right hon. and hon. Members for coming to this important debate against much competition on a busy day, with the Prime Minister shortly to speak in the main Chamber. I wish to put on record my thanks to the Backbench Business Committee for granting the debate, and to Sir John Hayes and my hon. Friend Steve McCabe for sponsoring it.

I also wish to put on record my thanks to the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied WorkersUSDAW—the British Retail Consortium, the Association of Convenience Stores, the National Federation of Retail Newsagents, the Co-op Group, and the Co-operative party for working collaboratively with me on the debate, and for raising this important issue with the Government over the last few weeks and months. Today, I will focus on two key issues: shop theft and, in particular, violence and aggressive behaviour towards shop staff.

I think it will help the House if I begin by giving a flavour of the concerns in the community about how those issues are perceived. There is a range of ways in which we can look at this matter, but I will begin by quoting the British Retail Consortium, which is the trade body for major retailers across the country. The consortium does its own annual survey on retail crime and retail concerns, and its 2018 annual survey showed some key figures that are worth sharing. There were a staggering 42,000 incidents of violence against shop staff in the United Kingdom in the last 12 months; that is 115 a day—11,615 so far this year.

Customer theft, just from BRC members, equates to £636 million in one year—£1.7 million a day. Remember, Mr Robertson, that you, I and every member of society pay those additional costs on the goods that we purchase in store. Fraud costs around £163 million a year. Robbery—the more serious end of shop theft—costs around £15 million a year, as does burglary, and criminal damage to shops costs around £3.4 million.

Those are just the figures from the BRC. The Health and Safety Executive’s crime survey for England and Wales shows a reported 642,000 incidents of violence at work, including many of the issues that we will address today. USDAW, of which I am a proud member, as well as chair of the USDAW group of MPs, does an annual survey of violence and abuse against retail staff. Last year, USDAW surveyed some 6,725 members of staff, 64% of whom said that they had experienced verbal abuse when serving in a store and 40% of whom said that they had been threatened by a customer when serving in a store. Furthermore, USDAW assessed that an average of 280 shop workers are assaulted every day.

One important issue, which I will ask the Minister to focus on, is the triggers of violence and threats to shop staff. USDAW identified that the top triggers are shop theft itself, in terms of apprehending people who are stealing, and critically—I hope the Minister will focus on this in the longer term as well as today—the enforcement of age-related sales. If a member of the public comes in to buy alcohol, they have to be 18; there are also age restrictions on cigarette sales.

I raised age-related sales of knives and acids with the Minister during consideration of the Offensive Weapons Bill, because the legislation was making it an offence. It is not the police, trading standards or the Minister who will uphold the legislation on the frontline; it is the members of staff who face a customer seeking those products. In 22% of cases, age-restricted sales triggered violence, and in 21% of cases, the sale of alcohol triggered violence.