Sunday 31 May 2020

Coronavirus: Hairdressers offer virtual appointments in lockdown

Hairdressers have been offering virtual appointments to help people style their hair at home.

Stylists are using apps including FaceTime, Zoom, and YouTube to provide customers live one-to-one advice and tutorials.

While salons have already reopened in France and Germany, hairdressers in the UK expect to remain closed until July.

Paul Phillips owns Chopp Hair salon in Leigh-on-Sea in Essex, which shut in March when the coronavirus lockdown began.
Paul Phillips has been offering consultations over FaceTime. PAUL PHILLIPS / CHOPP HAIR

He provides a service called Chopp Drops, in which he delivers hair products to customers’ doorsteps and then demonstrates via video call how to apply the treatment.

“Most hairdressers say you should never colour your hair at home, and in normal times I’d agree,” he says.

“But lots of clients’ mental health has been affected by the current situation, so sorting out grey roots and split ends makes them feel better.”

Paul says he serves up to 26 clients a day, but adds that he is cautious to only offer advice that is achievable at home.

“It’s too technical to dye blonde hair, so those clients sadly have to sit tight and wait for the lockdown to be over,” he explains.

“You don’t want somebody to mess up and then have to live with it for another seven weeks.”

'Time to focus'
Most of the hairdressers the BBC spoke to offered bespoke hair kits and virtual appointments priced between £30 and £150.

Ebuni Ajiduah is a hair loss-specialist. She has also moved her appointments online, offering clients home treatments, and when required referring them to dermatologists for further advice.

“People now have the time to focus on things they may have neglected,” she says, adding that she’s seen an increased demand for her services.

Ebuni Ajiduah runs a weekly wash day online. EBUNI AJIDUAH / BEAUTYSTACK

Ebuni has also launched a Virtual Wash Day every Sunday, when she invites people to join her on Zoom to wash, treat, and style hair together.

“We talk about the products we use and how we twist our hair,” she says. “It’s really nice, you get some people in shower caps and others trying to keep their kids still.

“It gives people a sense of normalcy when the world is on fire - you can still have a routine and focus time on yourself.”

Some hairdressers advise against cutting your own hair but are still offering other tips online.

“I've trimmed mine at the front but even I wouldn't attempt [to cut] mine at the back,” Michael Van Clarke says in a video on Instagram. Instead, he proceeds to show the audience how to style short hair that has grown out over a few weeks.

Hand holding
Since closing its doors, the team from his salon has been posting videos on social media and booking virtual colour consultations, serving more than 3,000 customers online.

“We have new clients which have never even been to our salon, the demand is huge,” Mr Van Clarke says.

“It’s a lot easier to do the video consultations if we’ve seen them in person before, but we are still able to give advice to new customers.”

Michael Van Clarke is trying to continue service the customers he normally sees in his salon. MICHAEL VAN CLARKE

Senior technicians carry out a hair assessment over an initial video call, advise on treatments and products, send them out and then offer a follow-up consultation to observe and guide the client.

“Some people like their hands held for reassurance, so our technicians can show them how to hold the brush and how long to leave colour on for,” Mr Van Clarke adds.

Gina Conway, who runs three salons in London, thinks this could become the "new normal".

“Even when lockdown is over, it’s going to be chaos,” she explains. 

“Some people might not be able to afford to go to the salon, they might be working from home or looking after children still, so I hope we can relieve that stress through technology.”

Gina says she’s now pivoting to focus on the internet.

“At first I was hesitant as I wanted to keep my business as professional as possible, but this is our way of giving proper advice and helping people to feel good about themselves.”

(Source: BBC)

Why India must battle the shame of period stain

Discrimination against menstruating women is widespread in India, where periods have long been a taboo and considered impure.

They are often excluded from social and religious events, denied entry into temples and shrines and even kept out of kitchens.

On the occasion of World Menstrual Hygiene Day, award winning photographer Niraj Gera attempts to de-stigmatise periods in this hard-hitting series called Sacred Stains.

Given the lack of conversation about periods, according to one study, 71% of adolescent girls in India are unaware of menstruation until they get it themselves.

Campaigners say it shows that parents rarely prepare their daughters for something they know is bound to happen. And this unpreparedness leads to so much avoidable fear and anxiety.

The difficulty of accessing sanitary pads is another major issue.

India scrapped a 12% tax on sanitary products in 2018 after months of campaigning by activists.

Campaigners had argued that menstrual hygiene products were not a luxury and periods were not a choice that a woman could simply opt out of.

However, tax exemption is only a small step towards a much longer journey of making menstrual health and hygiene an accessible reality for every woman in the country.

According to one study, only 36% of India's 355 million menstruating females use sanitary napkins, while the rest use old rags, husk, ash, leaves, mud and soil and such other life-threatening materials to manage their flow.

And menstrual health experts say the current coronavirus crisis has worsened matters further in India. The country is under a strict lockdown which has severely impacted production and supplies of menstrual hygiene products.

Of course, period poverty does not only affect women in India.

According to Plan International UK, an international development charity, one in 10 disadvantaged girls below the age of 21 cannot afford sanitary products and uses unhygienic substitutes such as newspaper, toilet paper and socks.

From an early age, girls learn to live with the pain and fear and seldom do we see a girl seek help when in physical or mental discomfort due to periods.

But with a surge in the use of social media in recent years, women have begun sharing their stories about menstruation too.

Yet this freedom is often questioned and those sharing their stories are threatened with bans, while trolls who indulge in moral policing and shaming women go scot-free.

"It's time to not silence them with shame, but give them the freedom and knowledge to deal with the pain. Social media is a powerful tool and it should be used to spread positivity and awareness among the people," says Mr Gera.

Millions of families across India cannot afford to buy menstrual hygiene products.

In the photo above, a daily-wage labourer's daughter wants a pad, Mr Gera says, but feels guilty to even ask her family for the money to buy it.

For them, it's a toss-up between spending on food for the family or purchasing sanitary napkins.

The photographer has launched a petition through his charity - Humanify Foundation - demanding free distribution of pads to all women and girls living below the poverty line in India.

Nearly 23 million girls drop out of school annually after they start their periods, according to a 2014 study by Dasra, a charity that works on issues of adolescent health.

Campaigners say the main reasons are a lack of clean toilets in schools and poor access to sanitary products.
There's also fear of staining and girls worry about being mocked by their classmates.

The study also found that a large number of women considered periods as dirty, explaining why menstruating women are often ostracised from social and cultural activities and are forced to put up with all sorts of restrictions.

"It is time we realise that menstruation is just a biological process and the secrecy surrounding it must go. It is important to normalise menstruation and destroy taboos around this natural process," he says.

"Talking is all it takes to begin a transformation and it's time we did it."

All photographs are copyright: Niraj Gera

(Source: BBC)

Saturday 30 May 2020

Mothers doing extra 31 hours more housework each week than before coronavirus chaos, study finds

Women doing more household chores than fathers by average of 12 hours

Mothers in the UK are having to do an additional 31 hours more housework each week than they did before the coronavirus crisis, a study has found.

The report, carried out by Boston Consulting Group, warned this extra work is equivalent to having a second job and is causing a tremendous amount of stress.

Researchers found women are doing an average of 12 hours more household chores than fathers are.

Parents’ lives have been massively disrupted by the Covid-19 lockdown due to nurseries, primary schools, secondary schools and sixth forms being forced to close across the UK in an attempt to stop the spread of the virus.

The research into working parents found the additional household duties being undertaken by parents range from chores around the home, to childcare and homeschooling.

Some 60 per cent of mothers said their capacity to do their jobs has lessened during the coronavirus emergency due to additional domestic duties, while 49 per cent of fathers said the same.

Researchers found 70 per cent of parents do not have any type of external support in providing care and education for their children.

The study, which polled 3,055 working parents in the UK, America, France, Germany, and Italy, found similar gendered patterns in other countries too.

Researchers found women with children across these countries now spend an average of 65 hours a week on unpaid labour around the house — with this figure having almost doubled since the Covid-19 crisis. This is almost a third more than fathers, who are doing an average of 50 hours a week.

It comes after a study by the London School of Economics recently found coronavirus is exacerbating the gender gap as women bear the brunt of childcare responsibilities and homeschooling during lockdown — whether they’re working or not.

The report found women are more likely to deal with homeschooling, childcare and chores around the house even if they are juggling this with working at the same time.

But this trend is being bucked in some households, with childcare being distributed more equally in 20 per cent of homes that include a woman, man and dependant children, due to fathers being furloughed, laid off or working from home.

Professor Barbara Petrongolo, an economist involved in the report, said: “There are a substantial minority of families where fathers now shoulder the bulk of childcare. Together with the way we are adapting our working lives to cope during the lockdown, this gives me hope that in the long term, a more equal society will emerge.”

The report found women are more likely than men to lose their jobs in the forthcoming recession because a larger number work in sectors — such as hospitality, leisure, tourism and the arts — that are forecast to be hardest hit.

(Source: Independent)

Coronavirus: 'Mums do most childcare and chores in lockdown'

Mums appear to be doing most of the housework and childcare during lockdown, according to a new study.

Research suggest that in homes where there is a working mother and father, women are doing more chores and spending more time with children.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) and University College London (UCL) interviewed 3,500 families.

They found that mums were only able to do one hour of uninterrupted work, for every three hours done by dads.
Getty Images

"Mothers are doing, on average, more childcare and more housework than fathers who have the same work arrangements," said Lucy Kraftman, a research economist at the IFS.

She said the finding applied to families where a mother and father were both working, as well as to families where both parents were furloughed or out of work.

"The only set of households where we see mothers and fathers sharing childcare and housework equally are those in which both parents were previously working, but the father has now stopped working for pay, while the mother is still in paid work," she said.

"However, mothers in these households are doing paid work during an average of five hours a day, in addition to doing the same amount of domestic work as their partner."

Paula Sheridan, a coach whose firm Unwrapping Potential works with professional women, says her clients "almost universally" report that they are the ones planning meals, creating timetables and downloading learning resources for children - along with dozens of other tasks.

"I'm the main wage earner and yet I also seem to be the one who stops work to make lunch and dinner, because he wouldn't think of doing it," one client told her.

Another told her: "[My partner] is furloughed and yet my work telephone calls are interrupted by the children asking questions, while daddy is just watching Netflix."

Ms Sheridan believes the different approach to household tasks and childcare responsibilities begins during maternity leave.

Only 2% of new mums and dads split their entitlement to parental leave. This generally leaves woman in charge of establishing a routine and learning how to be a parent - usually by trial and error, she says.

'Not men versus women'
Being a parent involves making sure there's food in the house, cooking, arranging childcare where necessary. And as children grow older, keeping track of after-school activities and making sure the kids make it to birthday parties, hopefully with the right gift.

"It isn't a man versus women thing at all," Ms Sheridan says. "The partner has no idea that all of this stuff even happens, because he has never needed to."

Mums still tend to be the ones organising how time is spent at home under lockdown, she adds.

As a result, mothers in two-parent households are only doing, on average, a third of the uninterrupted paid-work hours of fathers, UCL and the IFS found.
Paula Sheridan, a business and performance coach, says almost all of her clients have complained that they are the ones doing most of the childcare in the family. Paula Sheridan

Bigger wage gap?
Before lockdown, mothers completed on average around 60% of the uninterrupted work hours that fathers did.

"A risk is that the lockdown leads to a further increase in the gender wage gap," said Alison Andrew from the IFS.

But her colleague, Sonya Krutikova, points to some cause for hope that the lockdown may lead to a more equal sharing of household tasks between parents.

"Fathers, on average, are doing nearly double the hours of childcare they were doing prior to the crisis," she said.

"This may bring about changes in the attitudes of fathers, mothers, children and employers about the role of fathers in meeting family needs for childcare and domestic work during the working week."

(Source: BBC)

Royal family shares recipe for Victoria sponge cake from Buckingham Palace pastry chefs

Cake was named after Queen Victoria ‘who regularly ate a slice of sponge cake with her tea’, royal family states

Throughout lockdown, many people have been turning to baking to keep their minds occupied.

From sourdough bread to scones, members of the public have been throwing on their aprons and whipping out the wooden spoons as they refine their culinary skills at home.

Jumping on the baking bandwagon, Buckingham Palace has shared the recipe to one of the most quintessentially British bakes: the Victoria sponge cake.

On the royal family‘s social media channels, the Palace explained that the recipe has been shared to mark the royal garden parties, which were due to take place this May before being cancelled.

“The Victoria sponge was named after Queen Victoria, who regularly ate a slice of sponge cake with her tea, each afternoon!” the royal family stated.

The instructions shared by the royal family denote the official Victoria sponge recipe used by Buckingham Palace’s pastry chefs.

In addition to the recipe, the royal family has also shared a video demonstrating the correct techniques needed to produce the fluffy, jammy sponge.

Here is how to make a royally approved Victoria Sponge cake, according to Buckingham Palace’s pastry chefs:

For the sponge:
  • 3 eggs
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 150g unsalted butter
  • 150g sieved self-raising flour
  • 1/2 tsp of vanilla essence
  • Jam (strawberry or raspberry)

For the buttercream:
  • 150g softened unsalted butter
  • 220g sieved icing sugar
  • 1/3 vanilla pod or vanilla essence
For the sponge:
  • First, pre-heat the oven to 180C (375F, gas mark 4).
  • Grease and line two eight-inch cake tins. If you only have one cake tin, you can bake the sponge and slice it in half.
  • Cream the caster sugar, vanilla essence and softened unsalted butter until light and fluffy. You can do this either by hand with a wooden spoon or with an electric whisk.
  • Whisk the eggs in a separate bowl.
  • Gradually add the beaten eggs to the sugar and butter mixture. Do so a little bit at a time, in order to avoid any curdling.
  • Sieve the flour and then gently fold into the mixture
  • Pour equal amounts of the cake mix into the two cake tins and smooth them over.
  • Place the cake tins on the middle shelf of the pre-heated oven, baking for around 20 minutes, until the cake looks golden brown.
  • After 20 minutes, check the cake is well-baked by inserting a skewer. If the skewer comes out clean, the cake is ready. 
  • Remove the sponges from their tins and leave them to cool.
For the buttercream:
  • Cream the softened butter for the buttercream with the sieved icing sugar and seeds from the vanilla pod (or vanilla essence) .
To assemble the cake:
  • Ensure that both sponges are completely cold before spreading a layer of jam onto the surface of one sponge.
  • Next, spread a thick layer of buttercream on top of the jam. If you prefer, you can spread the buttercream first and then do the layer of jam second.
  • Once the layers have been spread on one sponge, place the second sponge on top and gently press down.
  • Sprinkle with icing sugar and, as per the Buckingham Palace pastry chef’s suggestion, serve with a pot of fresh English tea.
This recipe was shared on the royal family’s website here.

(Source: Independent)

Crown prince's family donates 300 handmade medical gowns

Crown Prince Akishino's family and government staff have made 300 medical gowns by hand for medical institutions, the front line of the battle against the new coronavirus.

The gowns were donated to the Saiseikai Imperial Gift Foundation, headed by the Crown Prince, the younger brother of Emperor Naruhito, with handwritten messages to cheer on and express gratitude to medical staff, according to the foundation.
Crown Prince Akishino's family chat in the garden of their temporary residence in Akasaka Estate on Nov. 15. | IMPERIAL HOUSEHOLD AGENCY / VIA KYODO

Crown Prince Akishino and Crown Princess Kiko became interested in making such gowns after hearing about protective gear shortages at medical institutions in an online meeting with a senior foundation official and others on May 11 that was also attended by their daughters, Princess Mako and Princess Kako.

The family and Imperial Household Agency staff made the medical gowns out of plastic bags.

On May 15, 100 of the gowns were delivered to Tokyo Saiseikai Central Hospital, and the foundation's head office received the remaining 200 on Friday.

"We feel encouraged," a foundation official said.

In a message posted on the foundation's website, the Crown Prince expressed his gratitude to the foundation staff and medical workers across the country.

(Source: JT)

Trump signs controversial executive order that could allow federal officials to target Twitter, Facebook and Google

'The First Amendment is what allows companies to say whatever they want in response,' Democratic congressman says

Donald Trump has signed a controversial executive order that could allow federal officials to go after technology giants like Twitter, Facebook and Google over how those firms monitor and treat content that appears on their websites.

The president, who has uttered thousands of false or misleading statements since taking office, complained as he signed the missive that social media firms have "unchecked power," adding: "Imagine if your phone company edited or silenced your conversations."

The president signed the order two days after Twitter, for the first time, placed a link on some of Mr Trump's tweets that guided users to news articles that fact-checked his statements. Those tweets were about his claims that voting by mail automatically breeds fraud, but he also this week pushed a baseless conspiracy theory that former GOP Congressman-turned-MSNBC host Joe Scarborough murdered a staffer in the early 2000s.

Mr Trump reacted angrily, saying all week that the company was trying to censor him the way he and others on the right say Twitter and its tech cousins have done to scores of conservatives online.

He said on Thursday the company put up the fact check on his post because it has a "viewpoint," calling Twitter's move "political activism."

The true scope and impact of the order are not yet known. And the tech industry is reportedly huddling about potential legal action, calling the executive directive illegal. And the president told reporters he expects a court battle, saying: "'I guess it's going to be challenged in court, but what isn't?'

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters that the current law erects "shields" behind which "we cannot see" how social media firms make content decisions. The idea behind the order, she said, is to "remove" some and "shed some light" behind those decisions.

The order would set the stage for US federal entities to possibly roll back legal safeguards for tech companies known as Section 230, which prevents tech firms from being held legally responsible for the content they allow on their sites. It also could allow the Trump administration to, via a potential new rule the Federal Communications Commission might craft, alter how agencies view the scope of Section 230.

Tech sector advocates and officials warn the order might have a chilling effect on free speech and set off ripple waves of yet-unknown business ramifications for companies that rely on the Internet to stay afloat.

"This is simply setting the wheels of law enforcement and regulation in motion against a private company for questioning the president," said Matt Schruers, president of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, told The Washington Post.

Congressional Democrats, predictably, are panning the president's move.

"Whatever the credible criticisms of current law, Trump's demagogic meat-ax attack is exactly wrong," tweeted Senate Judiciary Committee member Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. "He intimidates free speech & imperils responsible reform. It's condemnable."

Ted Lieu of California, a House Judiciary member, tweeted that the order "cannot change the law or the Constitution. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is what allows Trump to post his deranged thoughts on social media."

"The First Amendment is what allows companies to say whatever they want in response," Mr Lieu wrote.

And Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon said Mr Trump and Attorney General William Barr "are obligated to carry out the laws that Congress has passed and the courts have affirmed. Any order to the contrary is illegitimate and must be resisted by any federal official who is true to their oath."

But, as Ms Enany made clear, administrations control how they interpret laws that legislators write. The social media missive would alter how the executive branch treats Section 230.

Mr Trump told reporters he and Mr Barr will push Congress to pass legislation also addressing Section 230. 'We're fed up with it," he said of the alleged censorship of conservatives.

Still, experts are questioning the legality of the order.

"If I'm reading this correctly, the EO claims tech platforms are doing something they're not, in violation of an incorrect interpretation of law, and tasks agencies it can't task to look into the things that aren't being done that wouldn't be wrong," according to Tiffany Li, a Boston University School of Law professor.

Despite his feud with Twitter, Mr Trump made clear he has no plans to simply delete the account from which he regularly fires off over 100 original posts or retweets each day.

"If we had a fair press in this country," he told a reporter, "I'd do it in a heartbeat."

(Source: Independent)

Friday 29 May 2020

'People were like animals!' How supermarket staff watched the coronavirus crisis unfold

From stockpiling toilet roll to spending £3,000 on wine, supermarket workers have had to cope with a panicking public – while finding themselves unexpectedly on the frontline

It was Thursday night, 8pm. Clap for our carers: the sound of applause rising in the air. Leila was doing her rounds of the Waitrose in west London where she works as a store supervisor, rounding up the stragglers. An expensively dressed young woman was browsing the aisles. Leila asked her to make her way to the tills, as the store was now closed.

The woman erupted in rage. “She said: ‘There’s a fucking pandemic, can’t you have a little patience?’” Leila remembers. “I thought: ‘I am working through this pandemic. You’re just shopping in it.’” Shaking with anger, Leila fetched a security guard, who escorted the woman to the tills. Leaving work that evening, the irony of being verbally abused during the weekly celebration of key workers was not lost on her.
Shopping at Waitrose during the lockdown. Photograph: Guy Bell/Rex/Shutterstock

“The public has this sanitised image of what a key worker is,” Leila says. “They think a key worker is a consultant in a suit, or a nurse in scrubs. They don’t consider us key workers – they just think we’re unskilled. There have been so many instances of people getting frustrated, angry, taking things out on us.” She sounds fatigued. “You just feel kind of empty about it, I guess.”

But supermarket workers are key workers, exempt from the lockdown restrictions that have kept so many of us at home over recent months. And as essential workers, they were there for the initial panic-buying through to our bread-baking mania and everything in between. No one is better placed to comment on how we, as a nation, responded to the coronavirus crisis than our supermarket workers.

“Oh man,” remembers Alex Hogan, of those March stockpiling days. “The panic-buying was just crazy.” Hogan, who is 22 and lives in North Ayrshire, works as a checkout operator at the biggest Tesco in Scotland, in the south of Glasgow. “People would be pushing past each other in the aisles, and they would become quite protective of their shopping, as well,” Hogan says.

For about a fortnight, Britain became a nation obsessed with loo roll. And antibacterial hand gel. And soap. And pasta. And tinned goods. But mostly loo roll. “People were like animals,” Leila says. “They were just going for the toilet paper the minute they saw it.” In her branch of Waitrose, only managers were allowed to replenish the pasta and toilet paper during those initial weeks. “One of my managers told me that he didn’t even try to put the toilet paper on the shelves – he just left it on the crate,” Leila says. “People were taking it the minute it was out. There was such a swarm of people.”

During this period, some shoppers behaved disgracefully – particularly after the major supermarket chains brought in restrictions on how many items shoppers could purchase in an effort to curb stockpiling. “Around the time they brought in the restrictions I had some of the least enjoyable shifts I’ve ever done,” says Warren, a general assistant at one of the big four supermarkets (he prefers not to say which) in Gloucestershire. Like Leila and Hogan, he got in touch after a Guardian callout for supermarket workers. Warren had to tell one customer that he could only buy three tins of tomato soup, not 20. This did not go down well, and the customer demanded that Warren brought over his supervisor. When Warren’s supervisor confirmed that, yes, he could only purchase three tins, he demanded to speak to the store manager, who said the same thing.
‘One manager told me he didn’t even try to put toilet paper on the shelves.’ Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian

Had he behaved more respectfully, Warren would have told the customer that he could have circumvented the restrictions by buying tomato soup from different brands. But he was so rude, Warren didn’t want to. “That’s a weird feeling for me,” says Warren, “because even though this isn’t a great job – it’s not well paid and you can’t afford much, or any, quality of life, really, on the minimum wage – it’s still a job. I take pride in what I do. I want to help people. But when customers are shouting and causing a fuss, you don’t want to help them.”

It was not just the customers piling on the pressure during those early days. “The managers were blasting out the orders,” says Gavin, a warehouse worker and shop-floor replenisher at a big supermarket near Cardiff. “Especially because a lot of people were off sick, they hadn’t recruited enough extra staff, so they were having to push a depleted workforce. They’d be pressuring staff on headphones to put more items on the shelves.” For some of Gavin’s colleagues, it was too much. “They’d be coming up to me, stressed out of their heads, because after an eight-hour shift the tensions and frustrations with customers and managers was so high.”

Gavin’s experience is not unique. “Even before coronavirus, there had been a rising problem of violence and abuse to supermarket staff,” says Doug Russell of the USDAW union, which represents approximately 260,000 shop workers, including staff from Tesco, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Co-op and Asda. “Unfortunately, the Covid-19 crisis added to that, because it required shop workers to limit the numbers of people going into stores and enforce social distancing and restriction on sales of products, which can be flashpoints for abuse.”

There is evidence that supermarket staff feel stress more acutely than other frontline workers. Dr Rachel Sumner of the University of Gloucestershire has been conducting research into the health and wellbeing of frontline workers during the pandemic. Of the 1,300 people who responded to her survey, about 86 were supermarket staff. “These workers had higher levels of burnout and lower levels of wellbeing than both other types of frontline workers, and population norms,” says Sumner. Additionally, supermarket staff were less likely to think the government’s response had been timely and effective than those from the emergency services.

Sumner speculates that the burnout and poor wellbeing are due to the fact that most supermarket staff didn’t plan to be on the frontline in any conventional sense. Unlike medicine, nursing or police work, supermarket jobs are predominantly minimum-wage, without the higher earnings, benefits or sense of vocation enjoyed by many emergency personnel. “The thing is, these people never thought they would be on the frontline of a pandemic,” says Sumner. 
Shoppers queueing at an Asda in Gateshead. Photograph: Oli Scarff/AFP via Getty Images

“Your police officer or nurse, to a certain extent, they expect to be frontline. But a checkout worker or Amazon delivery guy, they never expected they would be getting spat on or shouted at.”

But it has not all been abuse. After the stockpiling abated, and the restrictions were lifted, the British public settled into a kind of equilibrium. “When everyone was panic-buying, people were a lot more abusive,” says Hogan. “But when clap for our carers came in, people stopped doing that as much.” She’s noticed customers are more talkative than usual. “I’ve had customers tell me they live on their own,” Hogan says, “and they seem quite lonely. And then there are parents who tell me they’re trying to home school their kids, and they’re stressed out. I think people miss having that human interaction they’d have from seeing their friends and going to work.”

But, with normal order being restored, physical distancing rules are starting to be ignored by some members of the public, as is the government recommendation to shop as infrequently as possible. 

“The majority of people are still social distancing,” says Russell, “but many aren’t. And the more we get confused messages about lockdown being relaxed, the more problematic it gets for workers in shops, because you get more people wanting to nip in for something quickly.”

All of the supermarket workers I speak to agree. “How do you stop customers coming right up to you and asking you for the frozen peas?” muses Gavin. “When they’re in the store, they want to get out of there as quickly as possible. They take no notice of the signage, they ignore the two-metre rule … There’s a melee to get in and out as fast as they can.” Now, when customers approach him, he holds out the palm of his hand, like a police officer stopping traffic. “My first instinct was to ask them not to come up so close,” Gavin says, “but by the time you ask politely, they’ve already ignored you. All they see is a uniform, not a person, and all they care about is finding an item.”

Inevitably, working in an enclosed space such as a supermarket will increase a worker’s risk of contracting Covid-19. Recent data from the Office for National Statistics shows that male sales and retail workers have Covid-19 death rates that are twice the national average. Distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE) varies among the major supermarket chains: Warren has been given rubber gloves, but they make it difficult to operate the self-scan tills, which ends up annoying customers.
Distancing rules are starting to be ignored by some members of the public. Photograph: Paul Childs/Reuters

One worker at an Asda in south Wales told me staff had been given no form of PPE whatsoever. “After about four weeks some bottles of hand sanitiser appeared in the rest rooms, but we’ve been given no individual hand sanitiser,” he says. “I get paid £9 an hour to put my life on the line,” says the worker, whose age (he is in his 60s) puts him in the higher-risk group for coronavirus. “That’s not being over the top about it. We are putting our lives on the line, for £9 an hour.”

In response, Asda commented: “We have worked with our colleagues to provide them with extensive support throughout this period and we are proud of the work they are doing every day to serve customers. Although colleagues haven’t raised concerns with us … we’re doing everything possible to support them as they carry out their vital roles, such as providing gloves, masks and Perspex screens.”

Of all the supermarkets, Waitrose appears to have been the best when it comes to offering PPE to staff. “They’ve given us masks and visors, gloves, loads of sanitiser, and we have protective screens at all the checkouts,” Leila concedes. “I can’t fault them.”

Hogan’s mother is in a high-risk group for coronavirus as a result of a kidney transplant. When she gets home from work, Hogan takes off all her clothes at the front door, and showers immediately. But she worries it’s not enough. “My mum hasn’t been going out,” Hogan says, “so if she was to get symptoms, I know it would come from me. I’m a bit anxious. I have to make sure that doesn’t happen, which is why I’m super-careful.”

As for the wider public, what better indication of how they are coping than their shopping baskets? In the Waitrose where Leila works, the predominantly middle-class customers have sought comfort in familiar pleasures. “We sold out of Charlie Bigham’s ready meals really quickly,” Leila says. “Another hilarious thing we sold out of is manuka honey – I think because coronavirus has respiratory symptoms. Everyone’s buying a lot of alcohol and fancy meat.” One customer kicked up a fuss because they had purchased £3,000 of wine but couldn’t get a delivery slot.
Waitrose appears to have been the best when it comes to offering PPE to staff. Photograph: Guy Bell/Rex/Shutterstock

But there are more subtle indicators that all is not well. Shoplifting is up, for a start. “I think because security is so busy manning the queue, there are a lot more shoplifters,” says Leila. “Two weeks ago, someone nearly got away with £500 worth of alcohol.” In addition to the professional shoplifters, who target high-value items such as alcohol and meat, and steal to order, Gavin has noticed more “pilfering”: shoplifting cheaper minor essentials. “I think it’s people who are now suffering economically who are taking things because they can’t afford to pay for them,” he says. “People haven’t been paid for a while, and they’ve come to the supermarket and for the first time in their life perhaps they’ve been hungry and stolen something.”

The pilfering, the rudeness, the stockpiling and more: truly, the supermarket worker saw it all. And having a front-row seat during this period of national crisis has been a simultaneously heartening and dispiriting experience. “I’ve had people say: ‘You’re doing really important work,’” says Warren. “But as with life in general, you tend to remember the bad stuff – the customer who called you a twat, rather than the one who patted you on the back.”

Hogan hopes that the lockdown will usher in an era of greater respect for low-paid workers. “Before, when people would ask what I do, they would be quite judgmental,” she says. “They’d say: ‘Why don’t you do something else?’” Not any more. “People will come up to me and say: ‘Thank you for being on the checkout.’ I’ve never had that before.” She sounds surprised. “I just hope it lasts.”

*Some names have been changed. 

(Source: The Guardian)