Supermarket checkout supervisor Kay Timbrell has her own phrase for the dangers she faces from coronavirus: “I call it shop-worker roulette.”
While nurses are aware when patients are sick, she says, “we don’t know who’s got coronavirus. We have absolutely no idea what we have around us.”
Too many customers are failing to observe social distancing and some become abusive when asked to do so, she says.
“As retail workers, we’ve always faced a degree of abuse,” she says. “We’re dehumanised by putting on the uniform. But that abuse has doubled in the past month.”
Kay says she wants to keep doing her job in maintaining food supplies during the pandemic: “I want to help in this disastrous situation, but we need everyone to play their part in it, because we’re putting ourselves at risk.”
Women like Kay are most likely to work in key worker roles where social distancing isn’t always possible, according to a new report by the Resolution Foundation.
The think tank says that women are twice as likely to work in lower-paid jobs, while two in five are also working mothers.
It has identified more than 8.5 million key workers in the UK, including health workers, teachers and retail staff in food shops and pharmacies.
“The current crisis has affected almost every worker across the country, from having to work from home to risking infection at work or losing your livelihood altogether,” said Maja Gustafsson, a researcher at the Resolution Foundation.
“But women, young people and the low-paid are most likely to be bearing the biggest health and economic risks from the crisis, which has shone a spotlight on the vitality of work that has been undervalued and underpaid for far too long,” she added.
Young workers hit hard
The Resolution Foundation also found that young people are most likely to work in sectors that have been shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic.
More than 40% of employed 16 to 24-year-olds work in sectors hit by lockdown measures introduced by the government in March.
They include the arts, retail and hospitality industries, with only one quarter of young people able to work from home, while nearly half of older workers can.
The new study also suggests that any rise in unemployment will disproportionately affect young people, as it did following the 2008 financial crash.
UK employment was estimated at a record high in the three months to February of this year, before the effects of the coronavirus lockdown started to kick in.
Official figures showed 76.6% of people aged 16 to 64 were in paid work, up from 76.4% in the previous quarter.
But one recent survey of 5,000 final-year students by careers website Bright Network found that two-thirds had already seen job applications withdrawn or put on hold because of the pandemic.
The Resolution Foundation called for government support for women and young people in the months ahead.
Ms Gustafsson added: “It is vital that policy focuses, and stays focused, on supporting those who have been at the epicentre of the current crisis.”