ELLE Challenges The Chancellor On British Beauty

Chancellor Rishi Sunak might not be the first person you’d vote for, to open British Beauty Week.

After all, those working in the beauty industry haven’t been the current government’s biggest cheerleaders during the pandemic. And they’ve had more than enough reason for antipathy.

With over 240 days of lockdown closures in the UK between 2020 and 2021, the hair, beauty and wellbeing industry was one of the hardest hit by pendulum-swinging coronavirus measures.

Let’s not forget that when lockdown restrictions eased and weekend pubs reopened earlier this summer, one-on-one appointment-only beauty salons still couldn’t trade. Even when they did open up, social distancing measures meant that salons had to operate at around 70% pre-pandemic capacity, which means two hours less appointment time per day, per member of staff.

Nicky J SimsGetty Images

Worse still, despite the furlough scheme and grants that have been offered to the industry, full-time equivalent employment numbers are now down by over a fifth on 2019, with an independent report by the National Hair & Beauty Federation (NHBF) estimating that beauty businesses will have made an average loss of £41,000 due to Covid-19 by the end of 2021. So, it’s no wonder then that one in four employees in the sector say they feel the government has been ‘dismissive’ of their work and doesn’t ‘understand’ their industry at all.

‘I’m sorry if anyone feels like that,’ Sunak exclusively told ELLE UK on Wednesday, when we challenged him on the above issues at the start of the British Beauty Council’s British Beauty Week.

‘What I can tell you is that what the past year, year and a half has taught us, is that your industry – the beauty industry – is an essential service. That’s because what it provides, what you provide for people, [are] things that can’t be measured on financial spreadsheets ultimately. It’s a sense of confidence, esteem or well-being.’

The sense of happiness you get following a manicure, haircut or facial might not be quantifiable to customers, perhaps, but it certainly is to struggling beauty businesses, especially the third which experienced problems trying to gain access to vital grants and the loss of industry personnel. It’s now estimated that full-time equivalent employment numbers in the beauty industry are now down by 21% on 2019, with the Local Data Company statistics indicating that over 7,300 business (16% of the UK’s industry) have been lost in the past year.

rishi sunak on british beauty

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Let that sit with you for a moment. The beauty industry is worth over £30 billion to the British Economy, £11 billion of which comes from the sale of personal care and maintenance products and a further £9 billion from purchases of personal enhancement products, skincare, make up, haircare and nails. In fact, hair and beauty service providers are the largest direct contributor to GDP, making up a third of total direct impact.

So what has the government done to help it get back on its feet?

In the last year-and-a-half the government provided certain support measures to businesses in the beauty sector since the pandemic began. In addition to furlough, it launched the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS), a recovery loan scheme, and business rates relief, to name but a few.

Your industry – the beauty industry – is an essential service

But it was really thanks to the British Beauty Council’s tireless efforts that the industry secured a higher amount from the Restart Grant for the personal care sector in April 2021. After much lobbying, the organisation was able to acquire an increase in the initial grant sum of £6,000 to £18,000 given the significant debt so many businesses had accrued in the previous year and to help them prepare for reopening.

Despite the government’s financial aid, however, we know women – of whom make up 94% of the beauty industry’s employees – have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic given we generally earn less, have fewer savings, less secure jobs or live closer to poverty than our male counterparts.

When asked what the government plans to do to help women working in the beauty industry post-pandemic, Sunak told us: ‘One of the reasons supporting the industry is really good for women is because, obviously, the vast majority of people employed in the industry are women. So as we’re trying to make sure there are great opportunities to grow people’s business we are going to be helping all those fantastic female entrepreneurs.

‘We’ve got good schemes like Help To Grow, which I urge new entrepreneurs to look at which will help your business get the management skills it needs or digital software to help it grow.’

rishi sunak on british beauty

Lauren McCall

The Chancellor also noted that after meeting with individuals at British Beauty week, he’d heard more about the challenges female entrepreneurs face, for example with juggling child care, during the pandemic. ‘Which is why I’m making sure that some of our initiatives, like tax-free child care or shared parental leave really work well for modern families. And that’s something we’ll remain committed to doing,’ he added.

Another commitment industry personnel and clients, alike, hope the government focusses on is addressing regulations over non-surgical cosmetic treatments. In July, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Beauty, Aesthetics and Wellbeing (the APPG), published its final report into botox, fillers and similar aesthetic non-surgical cosmetic treatments following a year-long inquiry.

‘For too long there have been next to no limits on who can carry out aesthetic treatments, what qualifications they must have, or where they can administer them,’ co-chairs of the APPG, Carolyn Harris MP and Judith Cummins MP, said at the time. At present, the absence of regulations means that anyone can carry out a treatment, regardless of qualifications or expertise.

When pressed on why it’s taking the government so long to address these much-needed regulations, Sunak said: ‘It’s always appropriate we get the balance right between supporting innovation and making sure that when people use products and services are protected. That’s what we need to do.

‘The responsibility for the Department for Business, I believe, and I know it’s something that with the dedicated team they now have engaging with the beauty industry those types of conversations can happen.’

We look forward to seeing the government work with the hair, beauty and wellbeing industry in order to ensure it bounces back to be a stronger sector now more than ever.

Watch ELLE UK’s interview with Rishi Sunak in full above.

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