We must do absolutely everything in our power to protect shopworkers

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During Covid-19, we have quite rightly witnessed a renewed appreciation of shopworkers and the important work they do to keep our communities going. But sadly, the clapping on Thursday evenings and posters in windows thanking key workers hide a shocking story – that the Covid-19 crisis has led to a doubling of the rate of incidents of abuse against retail staff according to Usdaw.

Abuse against shopworkers is not a new phenomenon. A survey of Usdaw members in 2019 reported that 68% of workers had been verbally abused at least once and 43% had been threatened with physical violence. Behind these shocking statistics are real people. Mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, who are just doing their job and should not have to face any kind of abuse when doing so.

This week I joined Usdaw’s National Respect for Shopworkers Week event and heard first-hand many heart-breaking stories from shopworkers who have had to endure horrific incidents of abuse from a small minority of customers. I spoke to them about the ways that the mayor of London and I, alongside the Metropolitan Police, are working to protect shopworkers and strengthen the police response to the unacceptable levels of violence and abuse they are facing.

Last year, as part of the mayor’s ongoing work with businesses to tackle crime, he held a summit to discuss ways to improve the business community’s response to violence. Here at the mayor’s office for policing and crime (MOPAC), working with London Trading Standards and the Met, we also produced a toolkit for employers containing good practice guidance and online training for shopworkers to equip them with ways of managing some of the conflicts they face.

The mayor’s office also supports business crime reduction partnerships. Working with the Met’s business crime hub, these have a particular focus on tackling violent crime, including threats and abuse towards shop staff.

I know that the Met take this issue incredibly seriously but acknowledge that there is still much more to do to help ensure that shopworkers feel safe at work. After years of cuts from central government, and at a time when police resources are incredibly stretched, it’s vital that the government steps up to properly fund the police in order to really bring down the horrific rise in abuse against shopworkers.

The Met are also focused on addressing the root causes of violence and abuse across our city. In London, we set up England’s first ever violence reduction unit, which brings together specialists from health, police, local government, probation and community organisations to tackle violent crime and its root causes.

It’s also why we have invested £70m in the Young Londoners Fund, which supports a wide range of local community projects, providing activities for young Londoners to help them fulfil their potential, particularly those at risk of getting caught up in crime.

Shopworkers are doing a fantastic job for their communities. It is vitally important that they are safe at work and they must have confidence that when they need it, the police will be there to protect them and respond appropriately.

That’s why I’m pleased to support Usdaw’s Freedom From Fear campaign and why I am so clear that we must do absolutely everything in our power to protect shopworkers and to instil respect for the work that they do – especially during Covid-19.

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