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UK retail lost 67,000 jobs in second wave of pandemic

By Huw Hughes

23 Mar 2021

The number of retail jobs in the UK dropped by 67,000 in the last three months of 2020 during the second wave of the pandemic, new data reveals.

That brought the country’s total number of retail jobs to 3.09 million at the end of last year, according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Helen Dickinson, the chief executive of the British Retail Consortium (BRC), praised the government’s furlough scheme during the pandemic, but warned things could get worse “if the third wave wears on”.

She said in a release: “While the Christmas quarter traditionally sees a rise in retail jobs, the last quarter of 2020 saw the lowest Q4 job numbers since 1999. While the second wave of the pandemic swept away tens of thousands of retail jobs, many more were saved by the government’s furlough scheme, which is now providing support for 600,000 retail workers, a rise of 200,000 since December.

“This is likely to get worse if the third lockdown wears on, and while new jobs were created, focused in grocery and driving online capacity across the market, as well as many temporary jobs in the run-up to Christmas, town and city centre stores continue to employ fewer and fewer people.”

At the beginning of March, the government announced it would extend the country’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) - which sees the government pay 80 percent of employees’ wages for hours not worked due to the pandemic - by three months until the end of September.

But companies will be asked to pay 10 percent of those wages in July and 20 percent in August and September as the scheme is phased out.

The extension came days after Boris Johnson announced a “cautious” roadmap to easing lockdown restrictions, which includes reopening non-essential stores from April 12 and lifting all restrictions on social distancing by June 21.

Dickinson continued: “Now is the time to rebuild the economy. Retail remains the largest private sector employer in the UK, meaning the strength of the industry remains important for the economy at large. The biggest threat to jobs and shops will be future lockdowns beyond April 12, and it is imperative the Government takes all necessary precautions to prevent that from happening.

“Any delays to the prime minister’s roadmap will undoubtedly result in more store closures and threaten the livelihoods of the retail workers currently furloughed. Retailers are working incredibly hard to ensure stores and operations are safe and ready for reopening, and it is essential that all retail is open and remains open, if it is to unlock the demand which will kickstart our economic recovery.”

Image: FashionUnited