The outbreak of Covid-19 has seen a rise in violence and aggression towards keyworkers, particularly throughout this third lockdown.

As many as 28.5% of NHS employees in England have experienced bullying or harassment from patients, their relatives or the public according to 2020 NHS Staff Survey. Seven out of ten midwives have suffered abuse from women and their partner according to a survey of RCM members. There have been reports of an escalation in violence and verbal abuse from customers by two thirds of retailers surveyed by the British Retail Consortium. Reports of hate crime based on race and sexuality have also risen during the pandemic across many frontline services.

At Suzy Lamplugh Trust we aim to decrease the levels of violence and aggression across our society, such as promoting personal safety both within public policy but also as a life skill. These have been incredibly testing times and although cases are dropping, unfortunately, we know that we are not out of the woods yet. We urge people to show support for the keyworkers who are often putting their lives at risk during the pandemic.

The Trust have launched a Personal Safety Awareness webinar aimed specifically at keyworkers in London, funded by City Bridge Trust. It is free of charge and provides useful knowledge and tools that keyworkers can use to reduce aggressive and violent behaviours towards them. You can sign up to the webinars here.


What follows is a first hand account of a keyworker working in retail during the pandemic:

"Retail workers are seen as unskilled workers, we're not valuable, easily replaceable. We are not seen as human; our thoughts and feelings completely disregarded as soon as we clock in.

It has been a tumultuous time for everyone. But as retail workers we have been overlooked this pandemic: working longer hours, encountering customers who are refusing to comply with governmental rules, getting blamed for the lack of products, serving customers to the best of our ability during periods of panic buying with little to no appreciation. 

During the peak of the pandemic, I often missed my lunch breaks just to fulfill the demand in store, making our customers our first priority. My 6 hour shifts turned to 8 hours and 10 hours, often just surviving off breakfast. It has been extremely difficult to enforce social distancing rules in store, the influx of people every minute, some days we were packed in like a tin of sardines, barely any room for us to stock shelves as queues used to run from the front of the store to the end of the aisles. This pandemic has brought out the worst in people: it has seen an increase in theft and rowdy customers, security and colleagues are verbally abused nearly every shift just for trying to enforce mask wearing, or even limiting the amount of shoppers in at one time.

There is one shift I remember vividly, I was the only person working from my team, which meant I had to carry out all the tasks. All I wanted was a peaceful and easy shift. But that was not the case. I had customers complaining about the lack of stock, the long queues, why certain items weren't available etc. Customers failed to acknowledge that we were doing our best, all tills were being utilised, and each cage of delivery that arrived was immediately taken to the shop floor to stock. I was on my last task of the day which is counting the stock of certain products, and a specific customer came right up to my face shouting 'Why aren't you doing your job properly, why don't you go on the tills and help reduce the number of people waiting, why are there this many colleagues on the shop floor, why are we using the customer service desk as a till?'. I calmly explained the job roles and how our store operates and what colleague does what, yet she kept getting louder and louder, until senior management stepped in to defuse the situation. She responded by throwing her shopping on the floor and walking out. 

I understand people don't see retail workers as a huge part of the nation, but we are helping to feed you. Whilst being on minimum wage, we have endured a lot and continue to start a new shift with a smile on our face and being ready to help everyone."