Yvonne Fovargue MP: We must protect retail workers from abuse

Yvonne Fovargue is the Labour MP for Makerfield.

Friday, 16th July 2021, 9:08 am
Yvonne Fovargue MP
Yvonne Fovargue MP

I have long agreed with calls for a change in the law to protect retail workers from abuse and violence.

This is why, during the recent consideration of the Police Bill, I voted for an amendment that would have introduced a new offence of assaulting a retail worker. Disappointingly, Tory MPs rejected the amendment.

Abuse, threats and violence should never be tolerated in any workplace.

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Throughout the pandemic retail workers have put themselves at risk to serve their communities.

Yet all too often the reward for working so hard has been unacceptable levels of abuse.

The Association of Convenience Stores found that 89% of individuals working in local shops had experienced some form of abuse.

The British Retail Consortium has reported that the number of incidents recorded last year amounts to the equivalent of one a minute during a typical shopping day.

Nobody should fear verbal or physical assault at work but that is the reality for many retail workers.

It must stop and I believe the Government should address it as a matter of urgency.

In 2019, the Home Office ran a call for evidence on violence and abuse towards retail staff.

After over a year of no response, the Government finally responded to the findings of this consultation by saying that it “does not consider that the case is yet made out for a change in the law.”

I disagree. As the cross-party Home Affairs Select Committee has concluded, the patchwork of existing offences for prosecuting incidents of abuse and violence against individuals is not adequate to address the escalating scale of offences against retail workers.

I will continue to support efforts to ensure retail workers are given the protection they deserve.

I hope that further progress on this can be made as the Bill makes further progress through Parliament.

At the time of writing this article we await the Prime Minister’s statement on the lifting of lockdown restrictions on the 19th July.

We all want to see restrictions end. However, cases of COVID-19 are rising, and they are expected to continue to rise significantly, with projections of up to 100,000 cases a day.

Against this backdrop, many people will be understandably cautious. I hope that when the Government makes the final decision on lifting restrictions, it will be based on the data, the modelling and the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) advice.

When only half of the population across England are fully vaccinated, and the Government’s strategy accepts that infections and hospitalisations will rise, I believe Ministers must make clear exactly what the risks are. Sadly, being double jabbed means a person is still a risk to others, yet the Health Secretary is releasing controls on transmission at a time when infections are rising.

Until more of the population has been doubled jabbed and until we have reached the peak of infections, it seems irresponsible to me to do away with all precautions, particularly for those who are on the frontline.

I want to see lockdown end, but we need a practical plan - as I and my colleagues in Parliament have argued for months now - that ensures proper sick pay, local contact tracing, continued mask wearing on public transport and ventilation in buildings and schools to prevent further illness.

I hope the Government will put these measures in place before final decisions on lifting all remaining restrictions are taken.

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