Scotland supermarkets urged to welcome parents with children

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Move follows surge in reports of single parents being challenged to enforce physical distancing

Supermarkets have been urged to welcome all families “with kindness and compassion”, following a surge in reports of single parents across Scotland being challenged or turned away by staff and abused by members of the public as they try to shop with their children.

Bruce Adamson, the children and young people’s commissioner for Scotland, said the problem, first highlighted by the Guardian at the beginning of April, was “widespread and getting worse across the country” as supermarket staff enforced strict physical distancing rules.

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World news | The Guardian

Supermarkets have been urged to welcome all families “with kindness and compassion”, following a surge in reports of single parents across Scotland being challenged or turned away by staff and abused by members of the public as they try to shop with their children.

Bruce Adamson, the children and young people’s commissioner for Scotland, said the problem, first highlighted by the Guardian at the beginning of April, was “widespread and getting worse across the country” as supermarket staff enforced strict physical distancing rules.

What do the restrictions involve?

People in the UK will only be allowed to leave their home for the following purposes:

  • Shopping for basic necessities, as infrequently as possible
  • One form of exercise a day – for example a run, walk, or cycle – alone or with members of your household
  • Any medical need, to provide care or to help a vulnerable person
  • Travelling to and from work, but only where this is absolutely necessary and cannot be done from home

Police will have the powers to enforce the rules, including through fines and dispersing gatherings. To ensure compliance with the instruction to stay at home, the government will:

  • Close all shops selling non-essential goods, including clothing and electronic stores and other premises including libraries, playgrounds and outdoor gyms, and places of worship
  • Stop all gatherings of more than two people in public – excluding people you live with
  • Stop all social events, including weddings, baptisms and other ceremonies, but excluding funerals

Parks will remain open for exercise, but gatherings will be dispersed.

Now Adamson and a coalition of 13 of Scotland’s biggest parents’ and children’s charities have written to the chief executives of all the UK’s major supermarket chains, as well as the British Retail Consortium, calling on them to “respect the diversity of families and the need for some parents and carers to bring their children for essential shopping”.

The letter, which has been sent to 12 chief executives, including those of Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Morrison’s and Co-op, asks for urgent guidance and training for staff, as well as clear information to be posted at shop entrances “explaining that some parents and carers may need to be shopping with children and that customers abusing them or challenging their right to be there will not be tolerated”.

Support workers at One Parent Families Scotland (OPFS), one of the signatories to the letter, have reported incidents of lone parents being told by supermarket staff to leave children alone outside the stores while they shop, questioned about why they cannot leave them at home and verbally abused by other shoppers.

The OPFS director, Satwat Rehman, said: “I completely understand the need to get a balance with social distancing advice, but one in four families with dependent children in Scotland are headed by a single parent so there has to be a bit of common sense applied.”

Underlining that “if parents or carers are taking their children to the shops, there is likely to be a good reason”, the letter – which is also signed by Children in Scotland, Children 1st and Parenting Across Scotland – goes on to explain that a parent may do so if they have no other family support, but also if another parent is working, shielding, self-isolating or caring for another disabled child at home.

Harriet Hall, from Edinburgh, who cares for her two children on her own, describes being “loudly shamed” and told she should have left her 10-year-old and 6-year-old at home by a member of staff in her local Sainsbury’s last Friday evening.

While she received an apology from the supermarket after tweeting about the incident, she said she was “shocked” by the response from other single parents.

“I thought I was calling out an individual incident that upset me and my family, but what shocked me was the number of people who got in touch to say it had happened to them. Or that they were disabled and something similar had happened with their carer. There’s a real failure to recognise the diversity of families, and individuals, who need to access supermarkets now, especially when delivery slots are so hard to come by,” she said.


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