The 2020 health of retail report

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Executive summary

By Dr Adrian Massey, September 2020 for retailTRUST

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The coronavirus pandemic poses a threat to public health and to the economy on a scale that we have not encountered in living memory.

The associated lockdown measures – national and regional – have been associated with a host of hardships. These include isolation, bereavement, alcohol and drug use, domestic violence, job loss and financial strain. Surveys of mental wellbeing demonstrate widespread distress across the population. Then there are the delays to investigation and treatment of non-COVID illnesses, notably cancer and heart disease, caused by the disruption to the normal activity of the health service.

Retail workers are especially vulnerable to these risks to health and economic security. They are amongst the lower paid workers within the economy, have relatively low savings, and are less able to weather the storm. The sector was already experiencing significant sustainability challenges, and these have been accelerated by the pandemic response.  Many are at risk of job loss with all the ramifications this will pose for them and for their families. The experience of previous recessions is that rising unemployment is sadly associated with a rise in the suicide rate.

Retail workers are much more likely than workers in other sectors to need to physically travel into their workplace to be able to work in their customer-facing roles, with correspondingly higher risks of infection. They bear the brunt of many of the socioeconomic strains described previously. They have to contend with increasing levels of frustration, anger and despair from their customers. Rising rates of abuse and hostility – for example around requests for customers to wear face coverings in shops – and shoplifting, are becoming evident.

The pressures on our healthcare system, and mental health services in particular, have been growing over recent years and will only become greater. The best efforts of our key workers, and policy makers, can realistically only ever achieve so much. We must all help each other. The reality is that if each individual in our society – and more specifically, in your workplaces – can express care for, and kindness towards, their fellow human beings, then huge inroads can be achieved in terms of our ability to support and protect one another.

Employers have a vital role to play in facilitating this, work being the place where we spend a significant portion of our waking life and where the interactions within teams take place. The tools and resources of the Trust’s wellbeing offering make a vital contribution in assisting employers in their efforts to support their people in supporting themselves and one another. The ‘For the four’ campaign recognises that at a time like this, all employees will require some degree of practical, financial and emotional support during the difficult days that lie ahead. The work of the charity is more vital, and must touch a greater number of lives, than ever before.

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