Business leaders and MPs sign Telegraph letter urging Government to back Britain's working women in Budget

Claire Cohen
·7-min read
Prominent names have backed a letter published in The Telegraph urging action to halt the fiscal impact of the pandemic on women  
Prominent names have backed a letter published in The Telegraph urging action to halt the fiscal impact of the pandemic on women

Lockdown's financial impact on women is being “overlooked”, more than 60 female business leaders and MPs have warned as they call for more support in the upcoming Budget.

In a letter published in The Daily Telegraph, leading names including Dame Helena Morrissey, Dame Jenni Murray and former home secretary Amber Rudd have joined the British Beauty Council in urging the Government to commit to safeguarding the retail and beauty industries.

The letter, also signed by Trinny Woodall, Mary Portas, Cherie Blair QC, Tamara Gillan and Baroness Bertin points to evidence that the clock is being turned back on Britain’s working women, and urges the Government to halt the reversal by “properly assessing the impact the pandemic has had on women’s lives in the UK”.

The group is calling for a temporary cut to VAT for hair and beauty salons down to 5 per cent [from 20 per cent], in line with the VAT relief offered to the hospitality sector.

They are also asking the Government to continue the business rates holiday to the end of the pandemic, and to lower it to 50 per cent thereafter.

The letter adds: “These actions would show the Government’s commitment to backing business women in Britain, and that the female workforce is considered as a vital part of the UK’s recovery plan.”

Rishi Sunak is due to announce a £5 billion grant for high street shops and pubs in the Budget on Wednesday, with individual businesses eligible to apply for up to £18,000 each.

Vivienne King, Chair of the Shopkeepers’ Campaign, welcomed the fund but said it doesn't go anywhere near far enough to solving the problems faced by the retail sector.

"While government grants are always welcome, up to 18,000 per business is a drop in the ocean for what these sectors need," said King. "We need long term reform of the business rates system, which is killing retail."

Research by the Resolution Foundation has found that women are more likely than men to be working in sectors that have shut down during the pandemic.

While Institute for Fiscal Studies research has shown that working mothers are almost 50 per cent more likely than fathers to have either lost their job or quit during the pandemic.

Due to school closures, one in three working mothers has lost work to cope with extra unpaid duties at home, according to the Fawcett Society.

Letter to the Editor
Letter to the Editor

The letter comes after the Daily Telegraph highlighted the disproportionate impact of lockdown policies on women, through its Equality Check and Chop the VAT campaigns.

In an exclusive report in December, in partnership with the Local Data Company, the Telegraph revealed that almost 5,000 salons and 14,000 retails shops have already closed on Britain’s high streets for good.

The beauty industry comprises an 88 percent female workforce, with women making up almost 60 per cent of the retail workforce, compared to an average 47 percent across other sectors.

The recent collapse of two major retailers, Debenhams and Arcadia, has seen 25,000 women lose their jobs.

The letter acknowledges an accelerated digitisation of retail over the past 12 months, and calls for an extension and expansion of business rates relief to help save smaller, independent shops, which have significant overheads.

The letter also points out that the UK's £28bn beauty industry - which makes a bigger contribution to the economy than car manufacturing - has been heavily impacted by coronavirus measures, with hair and beauty salons closed for more than 140 days.

A report this month by the National Hair and Beauty Federation found that 60 percent of beauty businesses entered 2021 with no cash reserves, and there has been no sector-specific support.

“For businesses to reopen they need money,” says Millie Kendall, chief executive of the British Beauty Council.

“ Without financial support, many salons will simply not be able to reopen and many will be forced to stay shut - and these sadly are mostly female-staffed, female-run businesses.”

'The last year has been a car crash for my family'

Heidi Early owns the Early Bird Designs shop in East London

Heidi
Heidi

'I run my business with my husband, designing and publishing greetings cards. We were massively hit by the first lockdown and all our trade stopped overnight. We got a bounceback loan to help put food on the table, but it was a very stressful few months. We were just starting to make up for lost sales after the first lockdown, but the current lockdown has been an absolute killer for us because we missed out on our busiest days of the year. It has been a car crash, especially as our entire household income relies on the shop. We need business rates reform - our rateable value is about £300 a month, but we’re also going to start paying back our bounceback loan. That’s a significant amount each month. If the Government doesn’t help now, more and more businesses will collapse and they’ll lose out in the long run.'

'I went from being a hairdresser for private clients to stacking shelves'

Adebola Adeoye is a mobile hairdresser working with Blow LTD based in London

Adebola Adeoye 
Adebola Adeoye

'Pre-pandemic, between working as a hairdresser for Blow LTD and private clients, I could earn up to £1,500 in a week. But in lockdown I ended up having to pick up night shift jobs in Asda and Morrisons, stocking shelves to make ends meet. Luckily, I am now studying at university and work part-time at a nursery - if I didn’t have that to focus on, I would have lost my mind. I’ve learnt the importance of arming myself with two streams of income, just in case anything happens to the hair and beauty industry again. That way at least I have something else to fall back on. Any extra support for the beauty industry would really help.'

'I can't afford to keep going with the current business rates'

Alison Dewey, owns the Sugar Mango boutique in Bournemouth

Alison
Alison

'My business rates are massive - my shop square footage is large but I’m just one person, so I have to meet those costs single-handedly. The Government needs to look at how they rate businesses; not on square footage, but on turnover. The estate agents next door makes significantly more money than me, but they’re paying the same business rates as me. That’s unbalanced and makes it hard for independents to make ends meet. With so many brands moving online, it’s so much harder to compete. We’re bringing a lot to the high street, we’re keeping it vibrant but I think in a few years’ time I will be forced to close. I just can’t afford to keep going at the current rate.'

'The lack of help is crippling'

Emma Sykes is a self-employed massage therapist in Bedfordshire

Emma S
Emma S

'I’m terrified about the next couple of months. I have had 339 days with no financial support and it’s getting more difficult by the day. It is not as simple as saying that we can reopen on April 12 and get back to work - how can we with no money? We have to restock products that may have expired, we have insurance to pay and it is putting people in really difficult situations. I’ve set up a local support group for other beauty businesses on the brink of closure, and we’ve all been writing to our MP to try to get the issue highlighted. The lack of financial help is crippling and if money doesn’t come through in the next couple of weeks to help us reopen, there will be so many businesses that will have to shut for good.'