Violence and abuse towards retail workers Contents

4The link between addiction and prolific offending

120.In her 2019 report ‘It’s not part of the job’, Dr Emmeline Taylor concludes there is a strong relationship between “substance misuse, shop theft and the use of violence and aggression by drug-affected offenders who are desperate not to be detained”. Shop workers and perpetrators who contributed to her report overwhelmingly identified drug addiction as a direct cause of violence in shops.213 A report by the Centre for Social Justice estimated that 70% of shop theft is committed by frequent users of Class A drugs. It further calculated that:

Offenders with 36 or more previous convictions or cautions are responsible for an increasing proportion of theft offences dealt with by the criminal justice system – growing from 39 percent in 2010 to more than 60 per cent in 2017. Over the same period, the even more prolific cohort of offenders, with more than 60 previous convictions, has doubled.214

121.In February 2019, the Home Office appointed Dame Carol Black to undertake an independent review of drugs.215 The first part of that review, published in February 2020, includes the following conclusions:

122.The British Retail Consortium’s 2021 Crime Report cited evidence that “an increasing number of addicts are turning to retail crime to support their habits.”217 The ACS 2021 Crime Report identified drug and alcohol addiction as the number 1 motivation for repeat offending, followed by organised crime and then poverty. ACS retailers also believe that 63% of all shop thieves are repeat offenders.218

123.Many stakeholders who submitted evidence to this inquiry identified offenders with addiction issues as a root cause of theft and shoplifting in stores.219 David Jamieson, former West Midlands PCC, told the Committee there is a “demonstrable link” between violence against shopworkers and the social and health determinants of abuse in the lives of offenders which “cannot be ignored”. He argued that the evidence demonstrates a strong case for “a prevention-led approach that tackles the drivers of abuse against shopworkers” which is within offenders themselves”.220 Iona Blake, from Boots UK, said “we cannot arrest ourselves out of the problem” because many of these individuals are coming “straight back out when they are released and committing offences on the very same day. We see that on a regular basis across the country.”221 James Lowman said:

It is not just about custodial sentences and that full process of going through the courts; it is also about using some of those out-of-court powers, particularly around rehabilitation, second chance programmes, banning orders and other community remedies that have a chance of tackling the root cause of the problem. Much as my members, when they are victims of crime, quite rightly want to see the person punished—as I would; we would all, understandably, probably start from that point of view—what we are trying to achieve here is to stop reoffending. That is the only way we will make an impact on the problem.222

124.However, the Institute for Customer Services told us “framing the problem only as a result of people with mental health issues or drug and alcohol addiction misses the reality of the situation”.223

Funding rehabilitation

125.The Home Office acknowledges that “drugs play a significant role in a large number of crimes” and that respondents to its call for evidence thought drugs play a significant role in the abuse suffered by shopworkers.224 Consequently, as part of its July 2020 action plan following the call for evidence, the Government committed to:

build a better understanding of what role drugs, as well as alcohol and other factors, play in driving violence and abuse towards shop workers. We will therefore work closely with members of the National Retail Crime Steering Group to further develop the evidence base. The Government will work closely with those members looking at opportunities around targeted drug treatment to try and address the needs of prolific offenders over the coming year to better understand the impact of the work they do to address the needs of prolific offenders and, if successful, how they may be replicated elsewhere in the country.225

126.In evidence to the Committee in May 2021, Policing Minister Kit Malthouse MP said that “prolific offending” driven by addiction to drugs and alcohol is “an area of strong concentration for me because it drives so much crime.”226 However, when asked about progress towards the Government’s commitment to develop the evidence base he said “we are about to start that work now on alcohol and drugs” looking particularly at “where they are pushing people towards acquisitive crime.”227

127.The Policing Minister did tell us about Project ADDER (which stands for Addiction, Diversion, Disruption, Enforcement and Recovery) which combines targeted policing with enhanced treatment and recovery services to tackle drug misuse. The project, launched in January 2021, will run for 3 financial years and brings together the police, local councils and health services to target 5 areas with the highest rates of drug misuse.228 BBC analysis found that funding for drug treatment services reduced by £162m (18%) between 2013/14 and 2017/18 and figures from Public Health England show that during the same period there was a 7% reduction in the number of people accessing drug treatment.229 UK Addiction Treatment Centres, a privately run service, found that “two thirds of the councils in England that responded to a Freedom of Information request planned to make further cuts to spending on treatment services for the financial year 2018–19”.230 However, the Home Office has recently secured an extra £80 million for drug treatment services. The money is intended to increase the number of treatment places for prison leavers and offenders diverted into community sentences.231

128.During this inquiry the Committee repeatedly heard about a programme in Birmingham called “Offender2Rehab” which is run by a West Midlands police officer. The programme’s strategic aims are to:

129.Former PCC David Jamieson told us that, so far, the programme estimates savings in retail crime in the region of £1,000,000 in the Birmingham East Neighbourhood Policing area and has prevented £350,000 being spent on drugs. In addition, aggression and violence used by offenders against shopworkers (which cannot be quantified as easily) will have been accordingly prevented. Paul Gerrard, representing the Co-op, described an offender treated by the programme who had a 20-year, £3,000-a-week habit of cocaine and heroin use funded through theft, often accompanied by abuse and violence. She had to get £150,000 a year to fund her habit. Over 20 years, that equates to £3 million. Following treatment and effective rehabilitation she had not offended for 18 months and had become a mentor for people who are in a similar position.233 Transform Justice acknowledged that the programme is “relatively expensive” but “given that each prolific shoplifter may take goods worth £250,000 each year, if it works for a significant proportion of offenders, it is ‘cost-effective’”.234 The Policing Minister has described the project as “inspirational” and credited it with having “a huge impact in the area.”235 Iona Blake, from Boots UK, highlighted that “it is only the West Midlands police” doing it and “they are tripling their capacity” but also sounded a note of caution in saying that “it has had mixed results because this is not a one-fix-all solution for everybody”.236

130.Former PCC David Jamieson told the Committee that he is able to provide funding for the Offender2Rehab programme by using the proceeds of crime returned through the Asset Recovery Incentivisation Scheme (ARIS).237 Currently, Police and Crime Commissioners are allocated 18.75% of the proportion of proceeds of crime from confiscation orders and 50% of money recovered from cash seizures. He has proposed that pilots for similar schemes could be partly funded by temporarily increasing the proportion of money Police and Crime Commissioners get under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.238

131.The Government has acknowledged that drugs play a significant role in a large number of crimes and with prolific offending in particular. Yet, one year on from the Government’s response to the call for evidence on violence and abuse toward shop staff, work to develop the evidence base regarding the role of drugs and alcohol in retail crime is only just beginning. We welcome the work the Government is undertaking to address drug addiction via the five ADDER programmes. However, the Minister has admitted that it will be years before these programmes could be rolled-out at a national level. This intervention lacks urgency and fails to address the gravity of the escalating violence and abuse faced by Britain’s retail workers on a daily basis. Retail workers need action now to break the escalating cycle of abuse.

132.We welcome the new funding the Home Office will be providing for drug treatment. However, it is only for one year, when sustainable increased funding is needed for ongoing services. We recommend that the Government makes central funding available for rehabilitation programmes such as the Offender2Rehab model adopted in Birmingham. We further recommend that until national drug rehabilitation programmes have been comprehensively rolled out, the Government should provide additional ring fenced funding, under the Police and Crime Act 2002, to enable Police and Crime Commissioners to work with local councils to restore drug rehabilitation services in their local area.

215 Review of Drugs, Dame Carol Black, February 2020

216 Review of Drugs, Dame Carol Black, February 2020

217 Crime Survey, British Retail Consortium, May 2021

218 Crime Report 2021, Association of Convenience Stores

225 Ibid

228 Home Office, £148 million to cut drugs crime, January 2021

231 Home Office, £148 million to cut drugs crime, January 2021

Published: 29 June 2021 Site information    Accessibility statement