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Be kind this Christmas, say UK shop workers after spike in abuse during pandemic

Office of Sussex PCC

By Michael Drummond, PA South East Correspondent

Uk shop workers who faced abuse and threats even as they worked on the front line during the pandemic have a simple plea: “Be kind to us this Christmas.”

Sammie, 32, has worked for the Co-op for 13 years and says violence and anti-social behaviour have spiked during the year of Covid-19.

She told the PA news agency: “Some shoppers seem to blame us, the shop worker, and take it out on us if they have to follow Government guidance and social distance.

“We never know when they are going to lash out at us – and it takes a mental toll on us. It impacts your home-life and mental well-being.”

One day, at about 7.10am, a customer came into her branch in Sussex wielding a flare gun and told Sammie and her colleagues: “I am going to blow your face off if you don’t let me steal this.”

Armed police had to be called to resolve the incident, which highlights the vulnerable position shop staff can be in.

Looking ahead to the festive season, Sammie, who lives in Hove in East Sussex, says that she fears the abuse she and her colleagues receive will continue.

She told PA: “We love Christmas in the stores – it’s the best time of the year. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t apprehensive though.

“Social distancing isn’t going to go away, more people will be on the streets shopping, it’s going to be different and it’s going to be tough – everyone needs to show more patience, tolerance and kindness.

“It isn’t the store workers’ fault, people have to keep this in mind, not lash out at shop workers and let them have the brunt of all of their frustrations.”

And the impact is not just on individual shop workers – they take their experiences home with them and it affects their loved ones too.

Sammie’s husband Clive said he worries about her, especially if she is working late.

Asked how he felt when he heard about the flare incident, he said: “So many emotions – angry, upset, relief that she was OK and, also powerless, as there is nothing we can do.”

Sammie’s story, as well as the stories of other shop workers, are told in a new video as part of this week’s #KeepingChristmasKind campaign.

Mrs Paleja has been the owner of a small newsagent’s for the last 32 years with her husband who was recently diagnosed with dementia.

She is now a full-time carer whilst also managing the running of her much-loved family business.

In the film, her daughter Mita describes her mother as a superwoman and tells of the abuse she has faced during the pandemic: “My mum is just trying to do her job.

“She has been threatened with a knife, verbally abused and pushed.

“I’m worried about her safety. Please consider to be kind this Christmas, there is a family behind every business.”

“When you hear they are being abused and assaulted in this way it’s heart-breaking,” Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne told PA.

“Less than 10% of crime in our shops in Sussex is getting reported.

“Don’t just look at the monetary value of the theft, what are we doing to support that individual as well, as a victim of crime?”

As part of the campaign, stores are being helped to automatically forward all logs of abuse and assaults to police so that the scale of the problem can be measured better.

Ms Bourne points out that while often victims of crime can avoid returning to the location of the trauma, shop workers have to return to work to put food on the table.

“They have to go in every day and relive this through,” she added, likening it to domestic abuse.

“I’m seriously concerned about the impact a Covid Christmas may have on our local stores.

“We have all had an incredibly challenging year but we cannot stand by and watch those who have helped keep our country going, be abused in this way.”

She hopes that the campaign will make people stop and think about how they treat shop workers this winter.

“We clapped for the frontline workers but for many shop workers on the festive front line this is an opportunity to show that we value them,” she said.

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