More than 24,000 retail jobs have already been lost due to the coronavirus pandemic – with hundreds of thousands more set to follow in the coming months, insiders have warned.
The warning comes as Rishi Sunak prepares to unveil the first Budget of the year, with senior figures calling for crucial support for those at risk of redudnancy.
New figures from the Centre for Retail Research (CRR) show that 24,348 roles have already been axed across insolvent UK shops and businesses, with experts warning this is “just the tip of the iceberg”.
A host of major high street brands, such as Laura Ashley, Debenhams, Monsoon Accessorize, Cath Kidston, Quiz and Victoria’s Secret have all entered insolvency after being forced to shut their doors in March.
Harrods, Café Rouge, Bella Italia and Topshop-owner Arcadia have all wielded the axe, leaving more than 14,000 staff without a job.
Some of the biggest have been at Heathrow Airport, where 25,000 staff have been cut, while British Airways is axing 12,000 positions.
A total of 2.8million more people are now claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance or Universal Credit while searching for a job, according to official data.
Joshua Bamfield, director at the CRR warned the situation could worsen.
“With the tapering of furlough from next month and the scheduled end of the lease forfeiture moratorium in September, the second half of the year could be disastrous for high streets,” he said.
“The Government should reduce VAT to 15% and institute free parking on Council-owned car parks for the next six months to act as a high street stimulus, as well as requiring all public lavatories to be reopened.”
Labour’s business spokesman, said Wednesday’s mini budget needs to focus on “jobs, jobs jobs”.
“These job losses are devastating for the people involved and for the economy. We fear they are just the tip of the iceberg. Hospitality and high streets have been battered by this crisis, with many businesses struggling to survive. We need a back-to-work Budget with a laser-like focus on jobs, jobs, jobs.”
Labour is calling for a £1.7billion hospitality and high streets ‘fightback fund’ to help protect jobs amid fears a bloodbath of roles will be slashed when new furlough changes kick in next month.
Companies have already used the scheme to pay £25.5billion of their employees’ wages – but it will be gradually withdrawn from August.
The Office for Budget Responsibility, the Government’s watchdog, predicted in April that around 3.4million people, or one in 10 of the working age population, would be unemployed by the end of June.
Now, think tank The Resolution Foundation says those at risk should be handed shopping vouchers to prevent a rise in poverty and to help inject cash into businesses.
It wants the £30billion handout from Chancellor Rishi Sunak to lift struggling high streets.
Under the scheme, every family should be handed shopping vouchers worth £500 per adult and £250 per child.
The vouchers would be valid in areas such as face-to-face retail, hospitality and tourism, over a year.
The foundation says the giveaway would boost demand, helping firms and workers.
It would be part of a proposed £17billion jobs support programme which would include £5billion of investment into social care, ensuring employment for 180,000 care workers and making sure care staff are paid at least the real Living Wage.
Resolution’s James Smith said: “A voucher for only these sectors would support the businesses that need help most.”