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UK retail now employs just over 3m people – 67,000 fewer than before the Covid-19 pandemic started

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The retail industry now employs just over three million people – 67,000 fewer than at the same time last year, according British Retail Consortium analysis of official statistics.

The Labour market overview UK: March 2021 from the Office for National Statistics, estimates that the UK unemployment rate stood at 5% in the three months to January 2021 – 1.1 percentage points (pp) higher than a year earlier. At the same time, 75% of UK adults are employed – 1.5pp lower than a year earlier. The UK economic inactivity rate stands at 21%(+0.6pp). The analysis found that there are now 693,000 fewer people on payrolls in February 2021 than in February 2020, although there are 68,000 more people employed than in January – showing that a recovery may be in progress as non-essential retailers approach reopening April 12. 

The BRC analysis of supplementary information on employee jobs by industry found that 2.9m are employed in the retail trade, while 0.2m are self-employed in the retail industry. Of those three million retail jobs that still exist, 600,000 retail workers are now furloughed – 200,000 more than in December, according to the BRC. It adds that while jobs have been created in online delivery and distribution over the last year, there were fewer people working in retail in the final quarter of last year than at any time since 1999.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC, says: “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 600,00 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.”

She says the biggest potential threat to jobs and to shops would be if the economy returns to lockdown after April 12 – and that the government must take “all necessary precautions” to ensure that does not happen. 

“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 that will kickstart our economic recovery.”

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