Offensive Weapons Bill

Written evidence submitted by Usdaw (OWB129)


Usdaw is the UK's fifth largest trade union with over 436,000 members. Usdaw members work in sectors such as retail, distribution, road transport, food manufacturing and the dairy industry. The Union's membership is employed entirely in the private sector.

Usdaw members in retail have long been subject to abuse and violence whilst carrying out their jobs. Usdaw conducts an annual survey of violence and abuse against shopworkers which has shown an increase from 53% to 67% in workers who had been abused in the past year, an increase from 31% to 42% in workers who had been threatened, and a doubling of those who had been assaulted in the past 12 months.

As part of their responses to the survey, 30% of our members have told us that age restricted sales are a trigger for abuse and violence. This is corroborated by evidence from the Association of Convenience Stores' 2018 Crime Survey which states that the second most common cause of aggressive and abusive behaviour, behind only challenging thieves, is enforcing age restricted sales.

Working with Under-Age Sales and the National Federation of Retail Newsagents, representing independent retailers, we commissioned specific research into the abuse and violence experienced by retail staff when challenging customers for ID. The findings suggested that there were around 6,000 incidents a day of retail workers being abused or assaulted as a direct result of asking customers for ID.

In addition, there is evidence that the use of weapons is a factor during these incidents of threatening behaviour and assaults. In The Crime Report 2018, ACS identified 3,690 incidents involving the use of a weapon in convenience stores alone. Whilst it is difficult to chart a definitive increase in the use of weapons in assaults, the BRC Retail Crime Survey did ask about the use of weapons during incidents and the 'findings do also seem to bear out experts' concern about the increasingly severe nature of the use of violence and threats, in addition to the increasing volume'.

Our members understand the importance of enforcing age restrictions on certain products, however, there is currently too much emphasis on punishing shopworkers who fail in this duty rather than on providing support to them and protecting them whilst they carry out this legal duty. This is particularly relevant in the context of the Offensive Weapons Bill which aims to keep harmful products out of the hands of those who might abuse or misuse them.

Areas for Amendment

Usdaw supports the aims of the Bill but believes that the Bill could go further in delivering real and meaningful protection to those who are serving the Bill's aims by enforcing its provisions. As such, we believe that amendments should be considered in areas outlined below:

· Make it an offence to attempt to purchase corrosive substances and knives under-age

Currently it is an offence under the Licensing Act 2003 for under 18s to buy alcohol, attempt to buy alcohol or to be sold alcohol. Similarly, an attempted purchase of a primer is an offence under the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 unless certain legal restrictions are met.

It is Usdaw's belief that whilst the Offensive Weapons Bill correctly makes it an offence to sell corrosive substances to people under the age of 18 and tightens the regulations on the sale of knives, the emphasis of the Bill in its current form is too far towards the seller, most often an individual shopworker.

Additionally, in the context of the examples above where an attempt to purchase an age restricted product is an offence, it would be odd for an attempt to purchase under-age the weapons covered by this Bill (corrosives, knives and firearms) to not be an offence.

Usdaw believes that making the attempted purchase an offence would bring the regulation of these sales into line with those around the sale of alcohol; act as a deterrent to those trying to purchase these products illegally; and be within the spirit of the Bill in bringing forward all reasonable measures to prevent these weapons from falling into the hands of people who would misuse them.

· Make it a specific offence to intimidate or assault a worker enforcing the age restrictions covered in this Bill

It has long been Usdaw's position that workers who are enforcing age restrictions on sales should receive additional legal protection whilst they are performing this legally mandated duty. As stated in the introduction, 30% of our members identified enforcing age restrictions as a trigger for abuse and violence. Age restrictions currently apply to a variety of products which we would, as a society, want to take all reasonable steps to keep out of the hands of minors, including:

- Alcohol (Licensing Act 2003).

- Tobacco (Children and Young Persons Act 1933 as amended by the Children and Young Persons (Sale of Tobacco etc) Order 2007) .

- Firearms (Firearms Act 1968, as amended by the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 and the Firearms (Amendment) Regulations 2010).

To this end, we believe that the Bill should contain a new clause making it an offence to intimidate a worker enforcing the provisions of this Bill.

In addition, whilst assault is clearly already an offence, current sentencing is very complicated in this area. The Sentencing Guidelines for all types of assault state that, 'An offence committed against those working in the public sector or providing a service to the public' is an aggravating factor which adds to the seriousness of the crime.

However, it is just one of 19 such aggravating factors which are weighed against
11 mitigating factors. The experience of many staff is that the effect of assaults on workers and their lives seems not to be taken into account during sentencing, and also during decisions on whether to proceed to court.

We believe that making it a specific to assault a worker enforcing the age restrictions covered in the Offensive Weapons Bill would have the following beneficial effects:

- Simplify Sentencing: Currently sentencing for common assault is complicated, involving three categories of harm and culpability, 19 aggravating factors and
11 factors reducing seriousness according to Sentencing Guidelines. A separate offence for assaulting a worker would be easier to determine.

- Encourage Prosecutions: Our members have, over the years, provided us with evidence of cases where, despite ample evidence, decisions are taken not to prosecute. We believe that a clear offence would help to tackle this problem.

A clear offence with simplified sentencing and more prosecutions in the case of assault, in addition to a new offence in relation to intimidation, would combine to form a healthy deterrent effect for people who might otherwise attempt to illegally acquire corrosives or knives. These protections would also demonstrate that the Parliament is conscious of the extra duty being placed on the workers and that it supports them as they ensure that the items covered by this Bill are kept out of the hands of those who might misuse them.

· Make it a specific offence to intimidate or assault a worker enforcing age restrictions in relation to any sale

We believe that the Bill serves an important purpose in aiming to protect society by removing dangerous substances and products from the hands of people who might misuse them. In the process, there is an opportunity to provide additional legal protections for those workers who are on the frontline of enforcing these measures.

Usdaw's position is that all public facing workers deserve additional protection with regards to being assaulted whilst going about their duties. It would be in keeping with this Bill to extend the protections outlined in the previous section to cover workers enforcing all sales related age restrictions in order to provide consistency in approach not just around corrosives and knives but also alcohol and other age restricted products.

August 2018


Prepared 13th August 2018