Hair and Beauty: how the Government decimated a £28 billion industry

Why the Beauty sector was tragically ignored by the Government during the pandemic.

In the Daily Telegraph’s Lost Britain Closed BusinessesLost Britain Closed Businessesseries it features an article on the impact of the pandemic on the Beauty Sector. Having been formally involved as an co-owner of a beauty salon I have first hand experience of its relationship with the government during the pandemic.

Alongside many other business beauty salons were closed in March as part of the national lockdown. This was a frightening experience of owners and managers as this is a thriving small business sector that serves regular customers. Providing treatments to customers means salons are proficient in hygienic practices and medical matters. PPE is no stranger to the sector. Whilst involving close contact, it is a safe practice.

Yet in the summer the Government dealt the industry a difficult hand with an extended lockdown and staggered re-openings. Firstly in June, it was announced that hairdressers could open on July 4 ahead of beauty therapists. The Government decided that the beauty sector – which employs 220,000 people, 90 per cent of whom are women – was too “high-risk” to re-open. Even then, The Telegraph points out, only treatments from the “neckdown” could resume, however. (Manicures and pedicures were fine, but eyebrow threading and facials were not.) This was a a farcical situation as face treatments amount to 70 per cent of beauty treatments. Our salon relies on face treatments for a tremendous amount of footfall and customers – women – are used to visiting without appointments. The outcome of this ill thought through decision was salons opening and not able to make sufficient revenue to cover the cost of opening, not being able to bring back many of its staff and turning away the majority of its regular and casual customers. This added further terror to the industry in faced with returning to business but being denied the right to operate in a solvent way.

When Face treatments were finally given the green light to resume in mid-august it was one of the last sectors to return in full and without any financial compensation for this. The Telegraph reports how Boris Johnson, when questioned on this, simply had no reply apart from ignorance and belittling sniggering. One of the best media supporters of the industry, The Telegraph asserts that no COVID outbreaks have ever been traced back to the beauty sector, it had contributed tot he increase in the R rate in late October by a mere 0.05%.

The Telegraph shows how this has taken its toll. With data showing nearly 5,000 hairdressers and salons closing since the pandemic began. The £28.4 billion sector has shrunk by 30 per cent since Spring 2021. It asks if the sector was even considered in the Government’s plans. The Telegraph describes it as bigger than the British car manufacturing industry.Such a huge industry, massive employer, in particular of women, reduced to being referred to by Boris Johnson as “massage parlours and nail bars”. Where, in the houses of parliament, an overly male dominated debating chamber, was the support for the sector? Where in the lobbying has the sector successfully gained the backing of MPs?

Through the year we saw how first hand the sector suffered collateral damage from the flip flopping of the Government with lockdowns and tiers and eat outs. People were now working from home. Pubs were sometimes shut or only allowed to serve food. People were scared by government warnings and stopped socialising. We stopped going on holidays beyond staycations. The impact of this was our bookings nose dived. Walk-ins significantly dropped.

And here we are again. A tier 4 lockdown that is likely to go on for weeks into months with no announcement from the Government yet about grant support that only ever covered the rent. Tier 4 lockdown just before Christmas effectively denied the sector one of its biggest periods of income generation that sees it through the winter months. It is one thing if the Government issues another grant for the December period but it is an entirely different matter if salons can survive to Spring and beyond when the Government eventually permits people to socialise again.

The Telegraph ponders how many years it will take the sector to recover. I also wonder without effective lobbying will the Government even notice and will Boris Johnson pay attention. I wish the Telegraph all the best in its efforts to overturn this.

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