There were at least 455 violent or abusive attacks on retail workers every day between March 2019 and March 2020, new research from the British Retail Consortium shows.

Such incidents rose by 7% in the space of 12 months, many of which were triggered by staff asking customers to verify their age when buying alcohol or cigarettes, the trade association said on Wednesday.

Shopkeepers reported a rise in customers brandishing hypodermic needles during such altercations, a BRC spokesperson told Sky News.

And things have got worse since the start of the pandemic.

One leading retailer reported 990 incidents of violence or abuse in the first week after face coverings became compulsory in shops including incidents of coughing and spitting, the BRC said.

Although comprehensive data for the past year is not available yet, the association said that all of the essential retailers it surveyed in February 2021 had seen an increase in verbal abuse.

Two thirds of respondents reported an increase in the number of incidents of physical violence against staff during the third lockdown.

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Coronavirus restrictions were a key factor in the rise of verbal and violent attacks against workers, all of the retailers said.

“Will retail workers in England and Wales ever receive the protection they deserve?,” said Helen Dickinson OBE, Chief Executive of the British Retail Consortium. “Despite clear evidence showing the escalation of violence and abuse against retail workers, the government has time and time again chosen not to act.”

“Many incidents arise as staff carry out their legal duties, including age verification and more recently, implementing COVID safety measures,” she added.

The recent findings also show that the total cost to retailers of crime and crime prevention was £2.5bn, an increase of 14% on the previous year (£2.2bn).

Theft alone cost retailers £935m between 2019 and 2020.