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my Ripley, PR & Communications Manager, City, University of London

19 March 2020, 8:29 UTC Share

Research making a difference in our communities and businesses

Many of us have worked in retail at some point in our lives and would welcome the news that proposed legislation to protect shop workers from violence, verbal and physical abuse was put before the House of Commons on Monday 16th March.

The private members bill which was presented by Alex Norris, MP for Nottingham North, was the result of a campaign ‘Safer Colleagues, Safer Communities’ that is being led by The Co-op. Contributing to the evidence base was a report It’s not part of the Job written by Dr Emmeline Taylor, Reader in Criminology at City, University of London.

There can sometimes be a perception that academic research lacks real-world impact and does not resonate with the general public. This report and campaign have proved otherwise and have confirmed the importance of academics working with business to power research which makes a difference to people’s lives.

The hard-hitting report, which was released in September 2019, examined for the first-time the impact and motivations of violence in the retail sector, something which Dr Taylor describes as having “reached ‘epidemic’ proportions”.

The report called for action to stem the rising number of crimes against shop workers, which have hit a five-year high, and highlighted workers suffering with long term mental health consequences and post-traumatic stress disorder, more commonly seen in the armed forces. It reported figures from the British Retail Consortium that found that workers fall victim to 42,000 violent incidents with 115 workers physically attacked every day, and many have been verbally abused and threatened.

Estimates cited in the report show that assaults and threats toward retail and wholesale staff are at the highest level since 2012 with around two fifths (39 per cent) of violent incidents resulting in injury.

The report aimed to provide the human experience behind these figures and went on to call on the Government to urgently protect employees and send a clear message that violence and verbal aggression will not be tolerated in shops.

The report was launched at the House of Commons and was sent to every MP, every Police Chief and every Police Commissioner in England and Wales; a strategy that has resulted in multiple parliamentary debates and questions in the main chamber (November 2019; February 2020) and Westminster Hall (February 2020) in which Dr Taylor, City, University of London and The Co-op were explicitly cited.

There have been over 25 questions tabled separately by at least eight different MPs to the Home Secretary. In February 2020, the Prime Minister directly addressed the issue at Prime Minister’s Questions. Alex Norris MP who moved to table the private members bill told The Guardian:

“If we give shop workers responsibilities to uphold the law on sales of a range of products which parliament has determined can only be sold to people above a certain age, then shop workers should be afforded protection in carrying out those public duties. Parliament should establish a new expectation by legislating for what is acceptable and the police given the resources to implement this new legislation.”

Dr Taylor has since been invited onto the Expert Panel for the Home Office’s Commercial Victimisation Survey which in 2020 will include an extended module on violence. The outcome of a government consultation on violence against shop workers to which she contributed will be announced this month and it is anticipated that this will result in further impactful outcomes for the campaign.

As an additional bonus, the report gained excellent media coverage, with the BBC putting it onto all of their major channels, right across their network of local radio stations, and even on the BBC News website home page. It was also covered by Channel Five News and Dr Taylor also wrote a piece for The Conversation about the report .

The report and subsequent campaign shone a light on an important – and often ignored – issue. It is an excellent example of how academics can work with business to develop and create real-world research which resonates beyond Westminster, Whitehall and the media to the general public.

Amy Ripley is PR & Communications Manager at City, University of London.

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