Last week’s announcements on the reopening of non-essential shops from mid-April provides some of the clarity that everyone working in the sector so desperately needs.
There are more than four million retail workers across the UK, and they have been hit financially, emotionally and physically during the entire course of the Covid-19 pandemic. They have had to cope with extremely difficult changes in their working conditions, livelihoods have been placed on hold during the lockdown periods, and, very sadly, tens of thousands of people have been left with no jobs to return to due to the pandemic’s devastating impact on shops and businesses up and down the country.
At RetailTrust, we have seen these incredible pressures reflected in a record rise in demand for our services since the start of the pandemic.
Last year, we provided more than £800,000 in non-repayable grants to help people stay in their homes, feed their families or make essential hospital visits. This was well over double the amount provided in 2019.
We also ran more than 6000 counselling sessions for retail workers following a 164 per cent rise in applications for mental health support compared to the previous year. We also provided support to those aged 16 to 18 for the first time – as well as all adults working in the sector – after a 235 per cent rise in people under 20 seeking our help.
Since 1832, RetailTrust has been at the heart of how the retail industry cares for, protects and improves the lives of its most valuable asset: its people. We have continuously innovated to ensure we can meet the needs of our colleagues across the UK. But in light of the Covid-19 crisis and the impact it has had on the industry, it is clear that this support has never been needed more in the charity’s near 200-year history.
Now, the Prime Minister’s roadmap out of lockdown – for England, at least – begins to give us all a sense of hope, with signs that there is finally light at the end of tunnel. For the first time this year, retailers can start making plans to reopen shops and provide much-needed reassurance to staff, many of whom will feel like they have been left in limbo over the last 12 months.
“These next few months will be absolutely critical in determining the future shape of the industry”
As we look forward to the full reopening of non-essential retail and leaving lockdown for hopefully the final time, these next few months will be absolutely critical in determining the future shape of the industry. Decisions taken now will not only protect vital jobs and businesses, but the social, economic and cultural importance of the retail sector to the UK.
The pandemic has accelerated changes retail has been experiencing over several years, but important parts of its DNA will endure. Most significantly, this is a sector that draws its strengths from its workers and its position as the biggest private sector employer in the UK. In return, retail will remain central to tackling issues like social mobility and youth employment.
I’m writing this ahead of tomorrow’s Budget announcement when it is expected that the government will unveil more details of the support it will provide for retailers to reopen safely, securely and profitably, ensuring they can safeguard jobs as they work through an a transition period back to pre-Covid normality.
As a sector, we all have a responsibility to come together and make the most of these initiatives which will protect, support and create roles. Our vision is to work with a coalition of retailers and business leaders that recognises the responsibility the industry has to look after the people that contribute to its success. We also want to help build a healthy, happy, diverse and inclusive workforce that reflects retail’s position as the premier industry in the UK economy.
We are here to help everyone working in retail and I would urge you to encourage your colleagues to get in touch with RetailTrust if they need our support. Our free and confidential helpline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week on 0808 801 0808.
Chris Brook Carter is the CEO of retail industry charity retailTRUST