I have been horrified by the stories people have shared with me over the past year. I have heard from shop assistants, bus drivers, NHS staff, receptionists and care workers, who have been sworn at, spat at, pushed, had trolleys rammed into them or full baskets of shopping thrown at them – all whilst trying to do their job. Many of the people I spoke to didn’t feel able to report these incidents, and those who did, were often ignored.
The Institute of Customer Service (ICS) revealed 44% of frontline retail staff have experienced hostility from customers in the past six months – up by a quarter from the figure of 35% in February. A quarter of those reporting hostility blamed the cost-of-living crisis putting increased stress on customers.
Last summer I launched a public consultation in Sheffield Hallam, into abuse faced by front line workers, following a vicious attack on Asda workers in London. Hundreds of Sheffield residents shared their experience with me.
Following the response, I brought a Private Members Bill to Parliament, backed by the Institute of Customer Service, the Cooperative Party, and trade unions, to make verbal or physical abuse of all frontline workers a criminal offence.
The motion built on the 2018 ‘Protect the Protectors’ Act, which made the assault of an emergency worker while they carry out their duties a specific criminal act.
This week new powers have come into force, which will provide greater protections to shop workers by creating a specific offence for customers who attack or abuse public-facing staff. They have come into force as part of the Government’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022. Baroness Williams of Trafford tabled an amendment to the Bill, which was given royal assent in April.
This is a really welcome and long-overdue step in the right direction and one that will, I hope, ensure everyone has the safety and the dignity they’re entitled to at work.