Nobody should be afraid to go to work or to shop on their local high street. Yet soaring levels of retail crime have seen shop workers face appalling levels of violence and abuse.
It is tough enough running a business at the moment, with the Conservatives’ unabating cost-of-living crisis squeezing spending on retail and leisure.
Yet, retail crime is hurting towns like Ipswich, and this has a profound cost, not just for our retailers and our high streets, but also for our shop workers who are all too often on the receiving end of this criminality. Indeed, the rise in physical and verbal intimidation faced by workers is adding real misery to this already challenging environment.
The numbers are stark. According to data released by the Co-op in the summer, criminal acts in retail stores have jumped 35% since the start of the year, with more than 175,000 incidents recorded. This amounts to nearly 1,000 incidents a day. Frontline shop workers had seen physical assaults increase year on year by 30%, while antisocial behaviour and verbal abuse rose by 20%.
To compound matters, in 2014, the Conservatives downgraded the stealing of goods worth less than £200 to a summary offence in almost all cases. This has, in essence, decriminalised shop theft, with organised criminal gangs taking advantage. These gangs have been given the freedom to loot, often stealing to order and persistently repeating these offences in the same shops. These crimes will also often act as flashpoints for anti-social behaviour against shop workers who are subject to appalling levels of violence, threats and abuse as they simply try to go about their jobs. It is utterly unacceptable and I know many local businesses are exasperated by the situation, and confidence is very low.
That is why I have joined my fellow Labour and Co-operative Party parliamentary candidates in writing to the Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, calling for action to tackle retail crime and end violence against shop workers.
In our letter, we acknowledge that some important steps have been taken, including the recently launched Retail Crime Action Plan which, rightly, seeks to ensure a police commitment to prioritise this issue. The actions already taken by retailers themselves to tackle retail crime are commendable and must be supported too, including the retail sector’s approach under Project Pegasus.
But, whilst we recognise and welcome the important steps that have been taken by retailers to address this epidemic of criminality, we urge the Government to go further in supporting their efforts ahead of the King’s Speech.
Yvette Cooper, Shadow Home Secretary has outlined the measures a Labour government would take to combat the scourge of shoplifting and violence against shop workers.
Everyone has the right to feel safe at work, that is why we will stand with USDAW, the Co-op, Tesco and other small convenience stores with a new law and tougher sentences for attacks on our shop workers.
We will scrap the £200 rule to tackle the shoplifting gangs, and bring in Respect Orders to ban repeat offenders from town centres.
And we will restore neighbourhood policing. 13,000 more neighbourhood police and PCSOs will be put back on our streets – with 1,000 coming to the East of England – guaranteeing patrols in the heart of towns like Ipswich.
Given the scale of the crisis facing our retailers, high streets and shop workers in the face of this soaring criminality, the Conservatives must seize the opportunity provided by the King’s Speech and follow the blueprint outlined by the Labour Party in supporting retailers and cracking down on retail crime.
Add your name to our Safer Colleagues, Safer Communities letter here: www. party.coop/campaign/retailcrime/letter