Virtual participation in proceedings commenced (Order, 25 February).
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I beg to move,
That this House has considered the beauty and wellbeing sector workforce.
May I say what an honour it is to serve under your chairmanship in this important debate, Sir Roger? As co-chair, alongside my good and hon. Friend the Member for Bradford South (Judith Cummins), of the all-party parliamentary group on beauty, aesthetics and wellbeing, I am well aware of the struggles that the people working in the industry have faced during the past 15 months. Uncertainty around closures and the absence of financial support, coupled with lack of respect for the industry and those working in it, have hit the sector hard. We have seen businesses failing and those that have survived facing an uphill struggle as the country slowly begins to open back up.
This industry has always contributed greatly to the UK economy and supported a substantial workforce. A British Beauty Council report, “The Value of Beauty”, published in 2019—before the pandemic—determined that the industry was worth up to £30 billion a year and supported 50,000 businesses. Figures from the UK Government’s “COVID-19 Response”, published in February 2021, show that in 2019 the industry provided more than 560,000 jobs, 85% of which were done by women, many of whom were working flexibly.
The pandemic has decimated this multimillion-pound industry and has had a devastating impact on the workforce and businesses. On average, businesses in the sector were closed for 250 days during lockdown—far longer than in any of the other, often male-dominated sectors, and too long for them to survive with no income and inadequate support. The knock-on effect of the extended closures has been severe. A recent report from the National Hair and Beauty Federation on the fate of the industry estimated that by the end of this year, businesses will on average have lost £40,000 of revenue. That has led to job losses, with employment in the industry down by 21% from pre-pandemic levels. In addition, 62% of businesses say that they have had to cut staff hours, and 14% say that they are being forced to make redundancies.
Even now that businesses are able to reopen, continued restrictions mean that many are still struggling. Large events, weddings and holidays being scaled back or cancelled has caused a huge deficit in demand, and salons are still operating at only 70% capacity to observe social distancing requirements. While demand for hair appointments and beauty treatments has declined, demand for wellbeing services such as massages and holistic therapy has grown significantly, which is hardly surprising given the increased stress levels that we have all experienced over the past year. Figures from wellbeing platform Urban show that demand for services are now 30% higher than pre-covid. Sadly, however, there are not enough therapists to meet the demand. Some 35% of mobile therapists have not returned to work since the first national lockdown lifted—those skilled therapists have taken on work in other industries due to a lack of income during extended closures. So we have a situation where customers are ready and able to book, but no appointments are available because the industry and those who work in it were unable to survive the long closures without financial support.
As someone who has used massage over the years as a therapy to maintain my mental health, I completely understand why people are seeking those services. I find it sad that because of the pandemic and, in all honesty, the failure of the Government to take the industry seriously and support its workforce, the services are just not there. The gap seems set to continue, as the closure of training schools during the pandemic and limited opportunities to gain workforce experience means that the number of newly qualified professionals entering the sector is significantly lower than normal. Recent data from the National Hair and Beauty Federation paints an equally bleak picture going forward, with only 11% of salons planning to recruit new apprentices in the next three to six months. This once thriving industry is suffering and needs support urgently. In a survey undertaken by the National Hair and Beauty Federation on the state of the industry, half of businesses say that they cannot rule out redundancy when furlough comes to an end, and more than a third are unsure whether they will survive the next few months while social distancing remains in place.
The all-party parliamentary group on beauty, aesthetics and wellbeing has already launched an inquiry into post-covid recovery for the sector, looking at how businesses recoup can their losses and how the highly skilled workforce can be retained. There are so many risk factors for the industry that Government support is key to combating them. Financial support for the sector during the pandemic was woefully lacking compared with that given to other customer-facing industries. The Government must now ensure that support is available to businesses for as long as social distancing measures are in place, given their effect on how many staff and customers can be in salons, and therefore on profits.
Promotion of the industry is also needed to encourage young people to follow this career path so that there is a full and flourishing skill base. Beauty and wellbeing practitioners play a vital role in supporting our physical and mental health, and many people use the treatments instead of visiting a doctor or to complement their medication. Figures from the Federation of Holistic Therapists 2021 members survey show that 75% of practitioners have clients who are using their treatments to support long-term health conditions, and 63% of clients use them to prevent poor health. I will give a plug here to the menopause and say that that is a condition where holistic therapy is invaluable.
If the industry is given the support that it so deserves, businesses will begin to thrive again and we will have a growing workforce who will be able to offer treatments to ease the burden on our already overwhelmed NHS. We entered the pandemic last year with a beauty and wellbeing industry that was thriving, that boosted the UK economy and that supported families up and down the country by enabling the huge, mostly female, workforce to work flexibly, yet throughout the pandemic, that loyal workforce has been undervalued and under- appreciated, overlooked for financial support and even ridiculed in the House of Commons Chamber. As we begin to emerge from restrictions, the future of the industry hangs in the balance, and key to its survival is the workforce. The industry needs help now more than ever to ensure that it can support jobs, provide a much-needed wellbeing boost to its customers and once again be a key contributor to the UK economy.
May I say what a pleasure it is to see you back in the Chair, Sir Roger? You have been much missed.
I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) for her phenomenal work, both as chair of the APPG and in repeatedly highlighting the hair and beauty sector in the main Chamber, emphasising, as she has done again this morning, the particular challenges that it has faced during the pandemic. She has also given us a really healthy reminder of what a strong sector it has been, which is important to reflect on.
We went into the pandemic with somewhere in the region of 300,000 employees in the sector, the vast majority of whom were women. Hon. Members would expect me, as Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, to emphasise that we are talking about a sector that employs women, but it does not simply employ them; it trains them and gives them opportunity. Many of them will do years of training in college or an apprenticeship, then move into working in a salon or studio. They might then consider taking the plunge and going self-employed; that is always a risk, but many of those brilliant and brave women do exactly that. After a few years of being self-employed, perhaps on a mobile basis, they rent their own salon—an enormous financial commitment, involving business rates and rent. For all of them, it is about risk and a cost-benefit analysis. They are brave and ballsy—as I have previously said and established, that is not unparliamentary language—women, who go out, take the risk and benefit from it, and in turn they become employers of other women. That is a model that we should absolutely be encouraging, celebrating and promoting.
I will tell a little anecdotal story. As Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, I get all sorts of interesting panels with fascinating people, including one gentleman who is one of the leading educationalists to whom the Government turn when they are looking for advice and interesting reports on everything to do with education. He talked to me about the veterinary profession and said that the veterinary profession was full of clever white girls. Then, he said, “But when educationalists find not-so-clever bright girls, they shove them off just into the beauty industry,” at which moment I had one of my moments of rage. Through the medium of Zoom, he undoubtedly got the famous death stare, because the reality is that the beauty and wellbeing industry is not “just” anything. It is a fantastic, thriving industry that provides training, employment and the opportunity to go off and become an entrepreneur.
Over the course of the last 12 months, I have been blown away by the stories I have heard from young and not-so-young women who have told me how their boyfriends, fathers or brothers have regarded them as “just” beauty therapists. I have always gone back to them and said, “You are not ‘just’ anything. You are an entrepreneur, and you know what? This country thrives on the entrepreneurial spirit of people like you, who have the guts to go off and become self-employed, to set up your own business, to rent your own studio, and to contribute to the economy in myriad ways.” I have got that off my chest, and I feel lot better about it.
The hon. Member for Swansea East mentioned that the industry sometimes gets ridiculed and people laugh at it, which makes me really angry, because they are laughing at the hard work of women who have skill, ability and the determination to give back to others the confidence that some of them may have lost. I know there is nothing more boring than somebody who stands up in this place and says, “When I was a Minister,” but I am will say it. When I was a Minister, I spent a very happy year at the Department for Work and Pensions. We talked about the challenges of getting women back into employment, perhaps after a long career break, and the thing that was missing from so many women was confidence. I would speak to women in jobcentres up and down the country, and I learned that they did not have the confidence to go back into the workplace; they felt their skills were lacking and they were old and past their sell-by date. These were women of 40. For the record, let me say that no woman in her 40s— I declare an interest—is past her sell-by date. It is crucial that we look at this sector, which can give the female workforce confidence.
The hon. Lady mentioned some of the services that can be provided, but I always highlight services such as ayurvedic facials that help with migraines, or the ability of specialist—indeed, brilliant—cosmetic tattooists, who put eyebrows back on people with alopecia or tattoo nipples back on women who have had breast reconstruction surgery. All these things give people the confidence to go back into the workplace, go back to work and take up a productive and useful role in society, in the community, and of course—I would say this to a Minister at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy—in the economy. That is crucial, because ultimately these are people who will pay tax and help the rest of us to recover from the hideous fiscal crisis caused by the pandemic. I recognise and want to reinforce the comments made by the hon. Lady about the promotion of the sector. This is not just “hair and beauty”; it is a really important sector, worth £28 billion, which can give women back their confidence.
I have a specific plea, which I hope the Minister will listen to and act on. The thing that struck me after talking to the National Hair and Beauty Federation and the British Beauty Council, among other organisations, and perhaps specifically after talking to individual providers of beauty services both large and indeed very small, including one-woman-band enterprises, is that they talk about the VAT break that was given to hospitality. Treasury Ministers always say that it was very easy and straightforward to do that because hospitality was on a separate VAT code and could be easily and distinctly hived off from other sectors, but the same does not apply to the beauty sector. Well, it should, and it would not be difficult to give it a separate VAT code. Will my hon. Friend the Minister undertake to have a conversation about that with the Treasury? We do not know whether covid will be back, or what the next pandemic is coming over the hill will be, or indeed what future financial challenges will arise. I think that it would be of benefit to the sector to have a separate VAT code, so that we will not be in the same situation in the future.
This is a very competitive, enterprising and determined sector, and one that is phenomenally good at self-promotion. What is lacking is regulation. We need a way of making sure that people are accredited, that training is understood and recognised, and that we can understand who is providing what to whom. I remember having a fantastic conversation with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care on this subject. He rang me on a Sunday to talk about it and I explained to him there and then that he and I could set ourselves up as a pair of beauticians with absolutely no training, no accreditation and no regulation—although we would not survive in business very long, because we would be very bad at it. The reality is that there is not the sort of oversight that one might expect for an industry that uses, in some instances, interesting and even challenging chemicals and machinery, and all sorts of products that need to be used by expert hands, particularly in services such as cosmetic tattooing. I say that because we can all open the Daily Mail’s Sidebar of Shame and see some of the horrors that have been carried out on people’s faces.
Fundamentally, it is vital that the Government recognise that, as we come out of the pandemic, there is a challenge in female employment. My Select Committee, the TUC and the Women’s Budget Group—a range of experts, up and down the country—have reflected upon the fact it is predominantly women who have been employed in the sectors that have been locked down longest and hardest. The hon. Member for Swansea East mentioned the fact that the beauty and wellbeing sector has rightly had to put in all sorts of provisions to prevent covid spread, but increased gaps between chairs reduce capacity, and businesses must have 15-minute breaks between customers so that facilities can be wiped down and disinfected, taking hours out of a day that could instead have been productive, income-generating hours.
We have seen the same in retail. We know that 58% of non-essential retail workers are women, and my horrific prediction is that when furlough comes to an end, we may well see a massive increase in the number of women being made redundant. That will have a consequential impact on the work of the Department for Work and Pensions to make sure that interesting, challenging and sustainable opportunities are found for those women in the future. It is crucial that we look at our recovery and how we build back better in a feminine way.
I will leave the Minister with that thought. When we look at how we build back, we have to make sure that we do not forget the female workforce, who are so vital in the hair and beauty sector, and indeed in other sectors.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) for securing the debate.
In many places, including my constituency, beauty and wellbeing businesses are the lifeblood of the high street. Of course, it is an industry predominantly run by women, for women and employing women, and prior to the pandemic it contributed up to £30 billion to our economy. However, it was harder hit than most sectors by coronavirus restrictions, and it was hit particularly hard in places such as Bradford South, which faced even tougher measures for much longer than anywhere else. Business owners and the workforce can be said to have been well and truly rocked in the past 15 months. Businesses have closed, skilled therapists have been forced to find work elsewhere, and fewer newly qualified professionals are joining the industry.
Despite those challenges, there can be a bright future for the sector, as the services that it delivers are increasingly valued by people after they have got through such a tough time. I thank all the practitioners up and down the country for their work, because much of the industry delivers excellent services in a safe and highly professional way. One business owner in my constituency told me how she donated her stocks of personal protective equipment to frontline workers when her business was forced to close in lockdown. That is typical of an industry that contributes so much. Then there is the work of Beauty Banks, a charity that supports those living in poverty by providing essential hygiene products.
However, the lack of regulation around the ever-growing list of treatments available means that consumers cannot have confidence that their treatment has been administered by someone who is appropriately trained. A certificate hanging on the wall is just not good enough. Getting standards across the board to match best practice requires regulation that ensures that a consistent level of training is delivered to medical and non-medical practitioners.
The APPG on beauty, aesthetics and wellbeing, which I co-chair with my good and hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East, held an inquiry into non-surgical cosmetic procedures, which found a growing prevalence of short qualifications—often as short as a day—for non-surgical procedures such as injectables. That is alarming for consumers, as that type of advanced aesthetic procedure cannot be taught well in a single day. To ensure that standards are lifted for the entire industry, the Government need to strengthen regulation and training for non-surgical cosmetic treatments for medics and non-medics alike. It is what the public expect, and it is what the Government need to deliver.
Well done to my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) for securing this important debate, and for all her dogged campaigning with my equally hon. Friend the Member for Bradford South (Judith Cummins) on behalf of the beauty sector over a year of enormous challenges.
I put on record my support and admiration for all the hair, beauty and therapeutic businesses in Newport East, which, like many businesses out there, have been hard hit at this extraordinary time and have had to adapt and innovate very creatively in lots of instances in the pandemic. I pay tribute to business owners such as Lynne Palmer of Friends salon in Maindee. She has run her business for decades in the heart of the community—I will come back to that point—and has helped me to understand just how challenging it has been to adapt. She has marvellously adapted to adhere to the rules and to keep giving her customers the wonderful service she provides, but she has also helped me to understand how challenging that has been. I very much agree with the right hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) and my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East about entrepreneurial women in small businesses and about the guts it takes to set up and run a business and employ others.
As has been said, the hair, beauty and products industry is a serious economic powerhouse, contributing more than £30 billion to the economy and employing more than 500,000 people in thousands of salons, nail bars and beauty salons up and down our high streets, forming a real linchpin in local economies. In 2018, the industry generated £7 billion in taxes, and accounted for around 1.3% of GDP. As has been said, the National Hair and Beauty Federation report released last month makes for stark reading on how the industry has suffered through the pandemic. In 2020, salons were shut for 140 days. Turnover fell by 45% compared with 2019, and the average cash loss to a business was £17,000, with those over the VAT threshold taking a bigger hit.
In Wales, there has been welcome help from the Welsh Government, including the freezing of business rates, the small business rate relief package and the £650 million the Welsh Government offered to help businesses with operation costs up to the end of March. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) highlighted at Prime Minister’s questions last week, unlike in England, where business rate relief is being withdrawn at the end of the month, the Welsh Labour Government are extending that rate relief for a year and providing new support for those affected.
Furlough has been welcome, but salons in my constituency and across the UK have called on the Chancellor to take action on the reduced 5% VAT rate to put businesses in the beauty sector on a level playing field with other sectors, such as hospitality. Many businesses in my constituency have signed that petition, and I am interested to hear the Minister’s response. Without comprehensive support, many businesses may close.
National Hair and Beauty Federation research shows that there are more hair and beauty businesses in the less advantaged parts of the UK. Throughout the pandemic, communities in less well-off areas, as well as women and young people, have been disproportionately impacted. That is highlighted in Wales by Chwarae Teg in its report “Covid-19: Women, Work and Wales”, which was published last October. The effect of the sector’s shutdowns, business closures and unemployment is falling disproportionately on women, who are more likely than men to have lost their jobs due to covid-19. There are clearly challenges around female employment.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East said, a recent survey of 5,000 salons found that 62% were not sure if their business would survive beyond the end of the financial year, with 18% sure they would close. Six out of 10 salons started the year with no cash reserves, and many businesses are now described as acutely vulnerable to failure. Those are businesses that generate much for the Treasury. They pay tax and they are vital employers in our community. As my hon. Friend said, it is also important to remember the impact of the cancellation of events, weddings in particular, on the hair and beauty industry.
Finally, the value of the beauty sector cannot be measured in economic terms alone. I hope parliamentary legal counsel, Daniel Greenberg, who is a regular contributor to “Thought for the Day” on Radio 4, will forgive me, but I would like to quote from one of his thoughts last year. He talked about how the restrictions imposed during national lockdowns taught us to distinguish between two types of essential:
“There are things that I need to remain physically healthy: food, medicines and healthcare services. But there are also things that I need to remain mentally healthy, and those go far beyond what might be regarded as the formal mental healthcare sector…Lockdown may have taught us to reclassify as luxuries some things we thought of as essential, but perhaps it has also shown that some things that are luxuries in one sense may be essential to people’s wellbeing…Nail salons and other beauty sector services aim to help people to feel better about themselves, and to make customers generally more cheerful and well-disposed…Perhaps we can see more clearly post-lockdown that these services are in what might be called the frontline of the well-being sector, and that they deserve society’s recognition, gratitude and appreciation.”
I and a great number of my constituents would totally endorse that sentiment. Thanks again to all those beauty and hair businesses in Newport East. On a few occasions over the past year, flippant comments from those on the Government Benches have been unfortunate. The beauty sector needs to be put on a level playing field and supported as a key player in the UK Government’s economic and health-centred recovery from the pandemic. Hon. Friends are here to speak up for the industry, and I hope the debate has underlined the importance of doing so.
Sir Roger, I am pleased to see you back in person in Westminster Hall and the House. It is good to have personal contact with you again face to face. I wish you well. It is also nice to be here to support the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) and her contribution.
In my contribution, I will support her and all the other speakers, but it is fairly obvious from the top of my head that I very rarely have to visit the barber or indeed anywhere else. In the morning, I do not need a comb; I just need a shammy. That takes care of my hair texture and so on. I am here because I want to speak up on behalf of my sector back home, and I want to give some examples. The right hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) gave some examples of businesses in her constituency and how covid has affected them, and I want to do the same.
I am delighted to serve in the most beautiful constituency in the Province—I say that unapologetically, although others may disagree. It is made up of large urban towns and small villages. Something that every village across my constituency has in common is its own beauty salon. We have quite a few spas as well, so a lot of time is spent in those places. Those who start the businesses have a lot of entrepreneurial spirit, and there is certainly demand and need for them. In this busy world, people need an hour to themselves—an hour to not think of anything else, other than to completely relax, have some space and time to themselves and soak their weary muscles. It is something to cheer and rejuvenate them.
I can only really speak for my wife and the girls who work in my office, but whenever they go to the hairdresser or the beauty salon, it lifts their spirits and wellbeing. That is why the title of this debate refers to the beauty and wellbeing sector. I cannot encapsulate the wellbeing that people get from going to the hairdresser, but I can say that for my wife, and indeed for the ladies in my office, the appointment with the hairdresser or at the beauty salon lifts their whole day. Many get wee treats at a place just across the road from us in Newtownards. They can have all the treatment they need from head to toe. I know how much my staff and other friends look forward to that.
However, this industry has been hit hard by the restrictions. It has been unable to work, and even with the doors open it has had fewer clients in due to the restrictions. It is one of the industries that needs continued support, and I echo the calls of the hon. Member for Swansea East and others who said that. We are very fortunate to have a Minister who believes that to be the case, understands the arguments and points of view that we are putting forward, and is keen to help and assist in response.
I had a young girl in my office who had just started her own business. I echo the comments of the right hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North: the people who start these businesses are highly intelligent, and they have massive skills and the brains and economic and business acumen to take their businesses forward. This was that young lady’s first business. She needed a wee bit of extra cash to get it going, so the bank of mum and dad probably helped out. That is where she was.
I had come in at a time when covid was just starting to take grip—about March, April and May last year. She was in tears in the office. I remember this very well. She said, “You know, Jim, I can really make this work. I just need this chance. I need this opportunity to get it over the line and continue it for the months ahead.” She definitely had the ability and the talent, and we were very keen to help her. She had not been open long, which of course meant that, when it came to the grant process, furlough and everything else that was necessary, she was under some pressure. She had contracts signed with the rental agencies and the suppliers, and she had many other overheads. We were fortunate in the scheme that the Government were able to offer, not just here in the UK mainland but replicated in the regions, and I thank the Ministers for all their help for those businesses. I have absolutely no doubt that this Government’s support enabled those businesses to survive.
We were able to source funding to see my constituent through, but only after a prolonged look at the criteria and how they could apply. I thought of so many other businesses that have not felt comfortable, or even considered, going to their elected representatives, and whether those businesses have survived. I hope and pray that whenever we come to the end of furlough, those businesses will be in a position to continue. Covid-19 restrictions have reduced customers, with new regulations requiring 15-minute intervals, but these businesses can work. I have seen them working in my constituency, with the beauty salons just in the street close to my office, never mind across the whole of the constituency.
The hair and beauty sector contributes £9.2 billion annually to Britain’s economy. Some 288,160 people work as hair and beauty practitioners in salons or in a self-employed capacity in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. There are some 44,800 salons in the UK registered for VAT and pay-as-you-earn, generating £5.4 billion annually and employing some 190,000 staff. Of this, £3.35 billion in turnover is generated by 12,300 VAT-registered salons, which in turn employ some 95,000 staff. The reason I give stats is that they remind us all of the importance of this sector: the jobs it creates, the money it generates, and the way it benefits the economy, as well as the tax system and the PAYE system. It generates approximately one third of the tax take for HMRC as a proportion of sales.
These valued practitioners and business owners have none the less received very little, or no, specific financial support from the UK Government, despite being closed for longer periods and having to make more significant adjustments to service delivery than many other retailers, small businesses and the hospitality sector. The costs of additional safety, hygiene and PPE products have been piling up, on top of all the other overheads that these businesses have. I recently read that, in a survey of salon owners, up to 56% were considering closing. That comes back to what others have said about the future, when furlough ends. In summing up, maybe the Minister can give some indication of what would be available whenever furlough comes to an end. It is really important that, when it does, the Government are on stand-by to ensure that we do not lose a lot of businesses, whether in the beauty sector or in other sectors.
The Save Our Salons campaign group found that nearly four out of five salons will recruit no apprentices this year. It has been highlighted that any closures would harm the finances of women the most, as this profession enables flexible working patterns that support family life. This flexible working is very important, as is increasing economic opportunities and entrepreneurship for women: 88.6% of the sector’s workforce are female. A while ago, the Government had a project through which businesses that took on apprentices received financial assistance, so could the Minister tell us what we can do for the salon and beauty sector? If we can keep apprenticeships going, we will prepare for the next generation. Our duty today is to make sure these businesses are retained, but we also have a duty for tomorrow—to ensure that there is a flow of new recruits to that sector to take us forward.
For those reasons, I support the call of many in the hair and beauty industries for a VAT reduction, because of the hard times they are having. These services do not have huge profit margins, and a VAT reduction could encourage those considering throwing in the towel to instead pick it up and continue their jobs, playing a part in the lives of other people and helping them to feel more confident. How important it is to feel confident—to feel strong in the morning and strong for the rest of the day! That can only be a good thing, so I very much look forward to the Minister’s response—as I often do—and I am sure that he will be able to answer some of the questions I have asked, and give that sector the security it needs.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I thank the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) for having secured today’s debate, and for the work that she and the hon. Member for Bradford South (Judith Cummins) have done and are doing in the beauty and wellbeing sector. I declare a 50-year interest in that sector.
During the pandemic, all of us MPs recognised the hardship that the beauty sector and wellbeing industry workforce have had to deal with. In particular, the timings of financial support information from the UK Government in initial covid-19 lockdowns, the details of furlough, and the support to business owners—including on how to support their staff mentally—were woefully inadequate. I have to say that financial stress owing to the delayed announcements about self-employment grants in many cases caused salons to close or cease trading—basically, to shut up shop.
Employers felt pressured to immediately try to foster a pastoral care role for their staff outside the salon, and to many employees, that contact with their employer was of paramount importance for their wellbeing. The support required for that role well exceeded normal employer duties and experiences. For example, in normal times, there might be one employee at a time with an issue to deal with, but this was absolutely different—it was all the staff at one time. Thankfully, for many, support was found on Facebook, social media forums and industry-led webinars where thousands of beauty salon owners sought information and one-to-one support. I attended many, hearing at first hand the stress, confusion and anxiety that all parts of the sector were going through.
Along with other MPs we have heard from, I supported calls for a temporary VAT cut for personal care businesses, in recognition of the unique challenges that these salons faced with covid. Although not all salons are VAT-registered, this temporary cut would have made a huge difference to all those salons that are, and would have been a crutch for a recovery period after opening. It is simply easier to keep people in employment and to support the businesses that already employ, thereby ensuring continuity, rather than starting new pilots, projects and incentives for already damaged, struggling businesses that probably cannot afford to take on any incentive schemes.
For certain, controlling the virus is key to keeping the economy open, and proper advice is needed for all workforces when moving forward into the recovery from the impact of the virus. The UK Government’s last-minute turnarounds on furlough did not and do not help; certainty was and is required wherever possible. Imagine the stress levels for employers and employees as deadlines approached for furlough payments to stop—they went through the roof. Yet again, there was little reassurance and no information on what would happen next. The constantly changing furlough regulations were difficult enough for accountants doing payroll to deal with, never mind for salon owners completing their own applications. This was yet another cost and burden for salons to bear in ensuring that furlough was completed correctly.
Close-contact businesses such as those in the beauty and wellbeing industry are known to carry increased risk of transmission due to proximity to the client, particularly to their face. As the Minister will know, the talent pool for massage therapists has been absolutely decimated, meaning fewer qualified professionals will enter the profession at a time when demand will surely exceed supply. The beauty industry has now returned in Scotland, but new, more transmissible variants mean continued adherence to effective mitigations remains highly important to protect clients and the practitioners themselves. It is pleasing to note that the vast majority in this sector know and take seriously and professionally their responsibilities.
We recognise just how difficult the restrictions have been for the beauty and wellbeing workforce; the Scottish Government have worked to provide all the support they can, but in recognition of the greater risk of exposure to covid, restrictions were necessary to protect clients and the workforce. Research shows that more than 10% of Scottish businesses in the industry had ceased to trade by December last year, and that number has obviously grown. As has been said, in April, across the UK, 46% of respondents to that consultation were unsure whether their business would survive until the end of social distancing. Salons were simply not earning enough to cover outgoings such as rent, stock, overheads and staff costs. The research also found that only 38% were just about breaking even. On the whole, two in five businesses across the entire hair and beauty sector were making any kind of profit. I will read from an email from a salon owner in Falkirk:
“No VAT reduction. Delayed and last-minute changes to financial support. No PPE cost support. No UK Government awareness of the huge impact on business i.e. you losing 200 clients from your business may set you back two years in growth and achievement. To sustain your current business cost, you must find a way to replace these lost clients within six months or you will be running at a loss. I am not sure the support is there for these scenarios and not in six months’ time when businesses will not have the buffer of the re-start grants and potentially most salons will close or staff will be let go. There is an urgency to support the reopening and sustaining of businesses trying to keep going. Appreciation of the business owners’ efforts in these times of extreme business difficulties is absolutely paramount.”
In Scotland, we recognise this serious problem. Therefore, in addition to furlough, retail beauty businesses with premises were supported by the strategic framework fund. The mobile and home-based close contact services fund supported those not eligible for the UK Government’s self-employment income support scheme, and alleviated business rates. Additional restart grants were available for those that got the strategic framework fund. Fellow MPs and I have worked with the Save our Salons campaign, calling for a VAT reduction in the March Budget. As others have said, that the UK Government did not take that easy step or listen to the sector’s suggestions was a body blow to their self-worth and value.
Controlling the virus is key. Scottish Government officials are working with local authorities and other regulators to renew focus on ensuring that workplaces are operating and reopening in a safe and compliant way. We recognise that each workplace is different and individual organisations work with trade unions or workforce representatives to determine how best to apply safe workplace guidance to meet all relevant requirements. Guidance is reviewed on a regular basis with the priority of containing the spread of the virus, saving lives and safeguarding the NHS. This partnership working is key to establishing a shared confidence in the safety of returning to workplaces, protecting public health and supporting Scotland’s recovery.
For all workforces, proper advice is needed. The UK Government’s last-minute turnarounds on furlough have added to the uncertainty. The furlough scheme is due to end on 30 September, but from 1 July the Government are due to pay 70% of the wages, with employers obliged to make up the remaining 10%. From August, the Government are due to pay 60%. Around 3.4 million people are still on furlough—a tenth of the workforce—and 553,000 fewer people are in payrolled employment. Now is not the time for the Conservative Government to withdraw support. Business trade federations and trade unions alike have urged the Chancellor to extend furlough. All last summer we urged the Chancellor to extend furlough and give firms the chance to plan. Unfortunately, the UK Government did not heed us, which led to another last-minute reversal. There is no reason to suggest that they will act faster this time.
The Chancellor should now invest in recovery and employment by providing the £350 billion to firms, and allow those who have already borrowed to convert the debt into grants or equity to avoid the debt time bomb and investment recession. The self-employment income support scheme still excludes 3 million people from any support at all.
This industry is undervalued, under-consulted and often overlooked by the UK Government. Financial uncertainty for this unique sector’s future cannot continue. The UK Government should value the sector, as Scotland does, and bring some peace of mind to all parts of the beauty and wellbeing workforce.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Sir Roger. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris), who co-chairs the all-party parliamentary group on beauty, aesthetic and wellbeing, alongside my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford South (Judith Cummins). I congratulate her on securing this debate and on her excellent opening speech on the lack of sufficient support for the beauty and wellbeing industry through the pandemic. She talked of the challenges it faced, many of which were echoed by other hon. Members who have spoken. I thank those who have made contributions, including my hon. Friends the Members for Bradford South and for Newport East (Jessica Morden), the right hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) and the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), and others who contributed in discussions with us who were unable to speak today.
Many important points have been made. My hon. Friend the Member for Newport East spoke about the support provided by the Welsh Labour Government. The right hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North highlighted that this is a women-led sector—as well as, in many ways, a BAME-led sector—that employs women and serves men and women, young and old, across the country. It is one industry that serves almost everybody in the country at some point. She outlined the arguments, as others have done, for a reduction in VAT. That point was also made by former hairdresser Maria Evangelou in an article on PoliticsHome before the Budget this year.
The hon. Member for Strangford made a powerful point about the sector being highly skilled, but it is often not seen as such. That is the same stereotype we seem to apply in our minds to women-led sectors—to see them as low skilled—which is often connected to them being low paid. We have to check and challenge ourselves.
There is nothing greater than the contribution of lockdown to understanding that point. We saw the rise of lockdown haircuts—I, too, had to learn how to use a barber set—and we really appreciated how much skill goes into making us all look and feel as good as we can and should. The point was made that it is very important to appreciate the industry for its wider contribution to health and wellbeing. I hope that the House will take that on board and we will see that in future debates.
The contribution of the beauty and wellbeing sector must not be overlooked, as I think we have all come to feel that it has been during the last year by the Government. The sector contributes so much to our wellbeing, but it also contributes economically to our high streets, to our communities and to our economy. I think my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford South used the phrase the lifeblood of the high street, which is powerful and no understatement.
A report by Oxford Economics found that the beauty industry, which employs around 600,000 and has done so for some time, contributes about £28 billion to UK GDP annually and supports £7 billion in UK tax revenues. That is equivalent to the combined salaries of 250,000 nurses and midwives. The numbers speak for themselves. This is a vital industry for our country,
As we have heard, the sector—hairdressers, salons, barbers—makes a huge contribution to our personal wellbeing and mental health, as well as to our community spirit. If someone wants to know what is going on, or wants to share their stories, we should look at how much people do that at the hairdresser. We all have that experience of a moment away from frenetic, everyday life and I think we underestimate that social contribution.
During the pandemic, the industry has certainly been one of the most acutely hit by the restrictions, because it is a close-contact industry. The product is often a one-to-one service. One stylist does not serve 10 clients an hour, which might happen in a restaurant. That has been very much affected by social distancing. There are also the extra costs involved in maintaining safety for staff and customers.
There has been a sharp increase in permanent closures of hair and beauty businesses—around 20% have had to shut their doors so far. The numbers employed as hairdressers or in related services have also fallen by 20%. Of those, more than 60% were self-employed. We have heard in the debate about how people who are employed go on to be self-employed and then become owners of businesses and employers of others. They take the risks themselves, every step of the way. Many have experienced issues accessing the self-employment income support scheme. Being self-employed is often a journey to becoming an employer. We need to understand the issues that are faced in that context, too.
Looking ahead, the future remains far from certain for the industry, which is one reason why it is an important time to have this debate. I believe it was my hon. Friend the Member for Newport East who said that six out of 10 salons started this year with no cash reserves, and many businesses are now described as acutely vulnerable to failure. Sixty-two per cent. of salon owners surveyed by the National Hair & Beauty Federation were not confident that they will remain solvent by the end of this year. There are also projections of further redundancies of over 15%.
Luke Hersheson, a globally renowned hairstylist backing the Save Our Salons campaign, said earlier this year:
“In March this year my salons will have been closed for 260 days out of 365… running a business for more than two thirds of a year with no income at all is incredibly challenging. When the tap is turned off salon businesses are still paying landlords, they’re still paying utility bills, insurance costs and subsidising furlough pay. It’s a huge strain on the entire industry.”
Although barbers, hairdressers and beauty salons have been allowed to open since 12 April, huge concerns remain about the gap between the revenues they can generate and their overheads. Our principle since the start of the pandemic has been that public health measures must be matched by fair economic measures. The Chancellor of the Exchequer once promised that he would do “whatever it takes”, and Labour’s position continues to be that these businesses must be supported so that they can recover and thrive after the pandemic.
The furlough scheme has helped so many, but we know that employers still have to pay national insurance contributions, and beauty companies have been paying full rent during lockdown, despite making little or no income. They still have fixed insurance costs and utility bills to pay while revenues are depressed.
I therefore ask the Minister why the Government will not delay the increased employer contribution to furlough, given that most of the 1.8 million people remaining on furlough are employed in sectors affected by the ongoing restrictions. On business rates relief, why will the Government not learn lessons from the Labour-led Welsh Government, who have given the vast majority of businesses 100% business rates relief for this financial year? Can the Minister tell us what assessment has been made of business rates costs for those in the hair and beauty industry? Finally, on debt repayment, where is the Government’s flexible plan to help businesses pay back their loans in a sensible way when they are generating profit and back on their feet?
There currently appears to be no credible strategy to ease the burden of debt that affects many businesses across the country, including in the beauty and wellbeing sector, which have racked up debts due to the long periods of closure. Forcing businesses to start making debt repayments—whether they are profitable or not—will squeeze the amount that they have to invest, to grow, or to take on new staff. For some, it could mean complete closure.
Campaigners say that their salons typically operate on a wafer-thin 2% to 5% profit margin in normal trading conditions. With social distancing requirements still in place, the average salon can often operate at only around 50% of their previous capacity. That is why Labour would give businesses flexibility to repay debt they have taken on during the crisis and link it to what they are making. Such measures would be invaluable to helping beauty businesses to survive.
There have been clear warning signs that the sector is in difficulties. Further closures would have a far greater impact on women’s income, as almost 90% of those employed in the industry are female. We also know that women have experienced a worse economic hit throughout the last year across all sectors. It is important to know from the Minister what further steps are being taken to ensure that those in the beauty sector do not continue to be disproportionately affected by the economic impact of this pandemic.
I pay tribute to the hair and beauty salons across our country. They play an enormous role, as has been mentioned, at the heart of our communities; I have seen this in my constituency of Feltham and Heston. I have also seen a large proportion of black and ethnic minority communities in my constituency affected—for example, BAME-led hairdressers such as His & Hers Beauty Salon run by Israr Rao and family that is at the heart of Hounslow West. When we go along the parade and talk to the shop owners, they come out and say how much they are still struggling. As we think about the economic recovery we face, that voice is still not heard sufficiently. I thank them for what they continue to do and for continuing to share their stories with us all.
It is right that there are new grants available as part of the restart grant scheme, but we have no idea how well these are supporting the beauty sector. In answer to a parliamentary question, the Department released a breakdown of the restart grant funding allocations and payments, but it does not hold sector-level data. As the Government point to the restart grants as a key support measure for the beauty industry, will the Minister now publish how much of the spending is reaching beauty and wellbeing businesses?
On skills, we know that there have been almost 30% fewer apprenticeship starts in hair and beauty in the first six months of this academic year, compared with the last. The Save Our Salons campaign group estimates that nearly four in five salons will not recruit any apprentices this year. If the salons struggle to take on new trainees and to hold on to staff who are leaving for other sectors, how will the Government ensure that they retain the skill sets needed to thrive in the future?
These businesses make a vital contribution to our economy. We know the Government’s approach to the crisis has failed to appreciate the importance of the sector and provide support to the extent needed. Businesses have done right by our country during the crisis and the Government must now do right by them. The health, wellbeing and beauty sector is a skilled and creative sector at the heart of our communities that absolutely deserves our support.
It is a pleasure to see you back in the chair, Sir Roger, and to serve under your chairmanship. I congratulate the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) on securing today’s important debate, and I congratulate her and others, including the hon. Member for Bradford South (Judith Cummins) and other members of the APPG, on the work that they are doing in support of this important sector.
Today’s debate is important because the beauty and wellbeing sector is so important. It is important because of its contribution to the economy, its pivotal role in high streets and communities in every corner of the UK, its showcasing of female entrepreneurship, as we have heard, and its role in improving our health and wellbeing. We have heard a little about high streets. We have to remember that high streets are an ecosystem. It is not just about retail, hospitality or the beauty and wellbeing sector; they all work together to make our high streets vibrant. It is important that we protect all of that as we reimagine the future of the high street.
I was keen, as we looked to the end of this lockdown and at the Prime Minister’s road map, that we should secure the reopening of the beauty and wellbeing sector at an earlier stage than last time. The sector was last to open after previous lockdowns, but among the first to open this time. That is testament to the appreciation that we were able to get across to the Government and the understanding that people’s wellbeing is so important, as well as the economic situation and the recovery. Today’s debate has highlighted the key role that the sector plays in our economic society and I hope it will go some way to strengthen the perception of the sector as highly skilled, entrepreneurial and accessible.
As we have heard, the personal care sector consists of over 280,000 businesses employing about 561,000 people and adding £21 billion to the economy. Over 95% of the businesses are small or medium sized. As for levelling up, 30% of all hair and beauty enterprises are based in local authorities that fall into the ninth and tenth deciles of multiple deprivation. Although its economic contribution is significant, what is arguably even more valuable is its impact on society and its role in communities. It plays a key role in supporting jobs, as was eloquently shared by my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes), especially jobs for women and young people. Some 82% of hair and beauty businesses are female owned, 60% of workers are self-employed and around 20% of hair and beauty workers are under the age of 25.
The pandemic has had a major impact on our mental health and we need to recognise how the sector can help the nation’s recovery by improving people’s physical and mental wellbeing. Whether it is feeling fresh after a new haircut, catching up with the local beauty therapist or getting a massage to relax, as the hon. Member for Swansea East said, the beauty and wellbeing sector provides the services needed to make people feel better.
The sector tells us that 68% of British adults who get their hair done professionally agree that having their hair done supports their mental health and wellbeing, and it is interesting to hear the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra) tell us about how she had to bring out her hairdressing skills. There was no way that I was going to try that. I know that some people thought that I was taking my loyalty to our Prime Minister to the nth degree with the hair that I sometimes brandished in the Chamber, and I am glad that I have been able to get it cut since.
As we have heard, the sector also plays a key role for some people with serious medical needs, such as those with cancer. We therefore allowed treatments to continue during lockdown for those with health issues when they could not be deferred—for example, some people undergoing cancer treatment were able to visit spas and salons to receive specific treatment tailored to their comfort. Throughout the pandemic, I have worked really closely with the sector to understand the issues, so that I can best represent its interests within Government. Although it has always been represented in Government, we had a dedicated personal care sector support team back in January, and we look forward to working with organisations within the sector, the APPG and other interested parties in the coming months and years.
However, this has been a really tough year for personal care businesses, which have been closed at various points of the year and faced restrictions for the remainder. That is why, in recognition of the impact that the pandemic and the restrictions have had on the sector, we put in place an unprecedented package of support worth £382 million. That is the largest peacetime support package in history, and it included the job retention measures that we have talked about, support for the self-employed, access to the highest grants, the restart grants of up to £18,000 and loans. Indeed, the restart grants are a testament to the sector. Although it was able to restart at an early stage of this part of the road map, the restart grants are a testament to the extra costs that the sector had to bear by getting the PPE and other mitigation measures in place. As we have heard, we have also provided business rates relief and a moratorium on commercial rent evictions.
The business support programmes have helped many businesses and protected many jobs, but they cannot substitute for operating in an open market. The road map that I have talked about has always been cautious and gradual, but it has to be irreversible. To help the sector reopen, we developed guidance that could get it to reopen safely. Through compliance with that, it has been able to operate since 12 April. The road map laid out the timing for easing restrictions, and it is an approach that is being led by data, not dates. We have obviously had the announcement by the Prime Minister that we are taking a four-week pause at step 3, meaning that restrictions, including social distancing measures, are still in place. That will still have an impact on the beauty and wellbeing industry, because operating at reduced capacity is extremely challenging—not only for revenue, as we have heard, but by making certain roles in the workforce redundant—but by pausing step 3, we will further improve protection in the population and reduce the need for stringent restrictions to control the virus.
The Minister has just mentioned the extension of the restrictions in line with the required public health measures, based on the data. Can he explain—the Government have not explained this—why furlough support has not been extended in line with public health measures? There seems to be a mismatch, and there is no explanation that does not leave the most vulnerable businesses continuing to pay and having a greater gap between their revenues and costs.
I will cover support in a bit more detail in a few minutes. In his Budget, the Chancellor essentially went long by extending furlough to September, which allowed a cushion within the road map. It was about data, not dates, so it was never on the June date specifically—it was not before the June date. That is the essential thing, but I will cover support in a second, including the VAT request that has been made by number of hon. Members.
Over the next few weeks, we obviously want to ensure that the pause allows us to get more people vaccinated, but I hope that our unprecedented package of financial support will continue to go some way towards reducing the impact of the pause. As I say, we erred on the side of generosity, as well as going long, in the Budget in March, specifically to accommodate short delays to the road map. Most of the schemes do not end until September or after in order to provide continuity and certainty to businesses. It is fantastic that the sector is looking at ways to boost consumer confidence to maintain the high demand—for example, the Oh Hello Beauty campaign, which I have supported.
Until then, it is critical that we all continue to follow advice on safe behaviours, including social distancing, wearing a face covering when required, washing hands, and letting fresh air into indoor spaces. It is so important that hands, face, space and fresh air are really there, because we will not get to that July date to find that suddenly the baddie has been killed and it is the end of the film—roll credits. We will still be living with covid for some time, but we want to ensure that the social distancing measures can melt away, in order to allow capacity to increase in the personal care sector and others.
May I probe the Minister a bit further? He will know that quarterly rents, for example, are due today and that other support measures, such as furlough, are being reduced from next week. From 1 July the level of grant will be reduced and businesses will have to pay a contribution to those wages. Those decisions were made assuming that lockdown measures would be lifted on 21 June. That has not happened, yet there has not been a corresponding change to the economic measures. Nothing that he has said so far has answered that question, which is a matter of real concern to employers across my constituency. I am sure that employers across the country have raised the same concern with their MP.
I talked about the fact that the Chancellor went long and was overly generous—well, not overly generous. He erred on the side of generosity in the Budget to cope with the possibility of an extension. On the grant scheme, I have written, along with the Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston), to local authorities to ensure that the additional restrictions grant can be widened. We have offered £425 million more to top up the additional restrictions grant, but that will be given to councils only if they have spent their original allocation. There are two ways that they can do that: they can either give businesses to which they are already paying grants more money or widen the number of businesses to include some of those that have fallen between the cracks, of which we know there are many.
Interestingly, different sectors are saying different things about furlough. It is a drag on bringing people back into work for some sectors, such as in some parts of the hospitality sector, but others, such as the personal care sector, are saying that they want to extend it. That is why it is really important that the Chancellor looks at it in a holistic way, right across the economy. Although these debates are so important to highlight the pleas and plight of a particular sector, the Chancellor has to take a macro view, while understanding that there is a human cost within all of this. When I say a macro view, it is not all about spreadsheets; it is about personal loss in terms of people’s jobs and businesses. That is why we have had to wrap our arms around the economy so much.
A number of contributors to the debate talked about VAT. It is interesting to note that the majority of businesses within the personal care sector are not registered for VAT in the first place, so it was considered by the Chancellor as probably not the best way of getting support directly out to a number of the small businesses affected. VAT is one of the larger and more costly measures for the Treasury, so the Chancellor again has to take a holistic view. From memory, the cost of the VAT cut to the hospitality sector was something like £27 billion, contrasted with about £12 billion for the business rates sector. That was a figure from around January, so it may be slightly out of date, but not by much.
Turning to jobs and skills, it is really good that the sector is accessible and flexible, and that it benefits young people and women, including those who have to balance work with looking after their children. In 2018, 65,000 qualifications were achieved in hair and beauty, and the hair profession specifically saw approximately 10,000 new apprenticeships—the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) raised this issue—being taken up in England, but I recognise how the deeply challenging restrictions caused by the pandemic have affected employers’ ability to hire new staff, especially apprentices, due to capacity restrictions and financial hardship.
The hon. Gentleman, as ever, predicts the next few paragraphs of my speech. Yes, we want to encourage and work with the sector, and incentivise it to take on more apprentices. I am aware of how highly skilled and valued practitioners are, but they are tempted to start careers in different industries because they have lost confidence in the sector’s future viability. That is why it is important that we talk about it, support the sector and demonstrate how viable and flexible it is, and how it very much has a key role in the high street ecosystem that I talked about earlier.
My hon. Friend was quick to respond that he wishes to support apprenticeships and demonstrate how important they are in the sector. Can he outline what specific work he is doing with the Department for Education to make sure that it, too, promotes them?
I can indeed, and I will come to that in a second. We also have to examine why apprenticeships were in decline before the pandemic began. We can look at it holistically across Government with the Department for Education, the Department for Work and Pensions and BEIS.
We have provided a range of support for the beauty and wellbeing sector. For example, the sector is eligible for the kickstart scheme, which provides a fully funded six-month job for 16 to 24-year-olds on universal credit and at risk of long-term unemployment. I am pleased to say that 600 high quality industry-designed apprenticeship standards are now available. I want to work with the sector to increase the number of small and medium-sized beauty businesses offering apprenticeships.
The Government have recently increased the cash incentive to £3,000 for every apprentice that a business hires, and that helps to maintain and attract the sector’s future workforce. It is good to see sector initiatives aimed at upskilling the workforce. For example, I commend L’Oréal on its education platform, Access, which I am told 54,000 hair professionals have used. We will continue to work with the sector to advance the reputation of beauty and wellbeing as an invaluable, skilled and highly rewarding career path.
I have talked about some of the issues that the hon. Member for Swansea East raised in her speech. I was pleased that she was forthright in mentioning the benefit of holistic treatment to the menopause. It is important that we do not shy from talking in this place about a treatment that can be of so much benefit to so many women across the country. It is great to see that issue highlighted.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North talked about the entrepreneurial spirit, as did the hon. Member for Strangford. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that we should not talk about just beauty therapists and just the beauty sector. As we have heard, the hospitality sector, for example, has a low bar to entry, but that does not make it a low-skilled sector. The hair and beauty sector does not have a particularly high bar to entry, but someone cannot just pick up a pair of scissors and expect to walk into a hairdresser’s and say, “Can I start work, please?” It is really important to demonstrate the skills required in the sector.
The hon. Member for Bradford South talked about regulation, and we are working with the Department of Health and Social Care to look at regulation and what needs to be done for particular treatments. We will continue to make sure that we can work with the Department, the APPG and the sector to ensure the safety of customers. They need to see not just a certificate on the wall, as she said, but that there are skills behind it. We have to be really careful in those areas.
The hon. Member for Strangford talked about people—specifically, women—setting up businesses. We have talked about the fact that this is largely a female-led-business sector. He is absolutely right when he talks about female entrepreneurs. This fits into a wider piece of work that we are doing in my Department. What are the barriers to female entrepreneurs? They include access to finance, peer-to-peer networking and mentoring. The issue there is not just having the big beasts—the Deborah Meadens, the Richard Bransons and all those people. It is how you get mentors for people who have perhaps just opened their first salon, having been a mobile worker for a number of years; perhaps they have just taken on their first employee—it is about all those kinds of things. That is the kind of example that women want to see—someone in their mould, speaking to them about their issues. It is a question of getting consistency across the country, but also, as I have said, access to finance.
Alison Rose, the chief executive of NatWest, led the Rose review a few years ago. I chair the Rose Review Board with her—we have a meeting next week—and we talk about access to finance. We have 100 signatories to the “Investing in Women Code”, which involves a number of venture capitalists as well as lenders. We are trying to get them to change their teams so that they can get diversity of thought in their investment decisions. That will lead to having diversity in their investments and ensure that they are investing in more women, and that has to be brilliant for the UK economy.
We also have the start-up loans, available for anybody to set up a new business, of up to £25,000, alongside free mentoring. That is run by the British Business Bank and has been since 2012, and 40% of those loans are going to women. That is clearly far lower than the percentage of women in the population, but compared with some other lenders, it is going in the right direction. We still need to do more, so I am pleased to be able to encourage that. The Budget in March from my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer was focused on helping those most affected by the pandemic, including small businesses and vulnerable groups such as young people, women and those from disadvantaged groups in our communities. It is really important that we continue to do that.
In conclusion, we will continue to listen to the sector to understand its views and concerns. As we move to step 4 on the road map, we will work together to address the key problems facing the beauty and wellbeing workforce, discussed in the debate today. We will keep on reviewing the data; we will keep on making an assessment against the four tests at least a week in advance and will announce whether we proceed to step 4 on the new date of no later than 12 July. I want the sector to fully open as soon as that is safe, so that it can bounce back and recover from the restrictions and the financial pressures caused by the pandemic. That will help to address the issues relating to jobs and the skills gap. There is clearly more to do, after we reopen, to address the longer term challenges for the sector, but we need to keep making the point that the beauty and wellbeing sector is a fantastic industry to work in because of the people and the skills that they bring.
It is a pleasure to see colleagues from across the House acknowledge and champion an industry that is a serious contributor to both the economy and the societal life of our country. If we as parliamentarians have achieved anything, it has been to throw a spotlight on the need for greater respect for this industry, but we need to do more than be champions. We need to support the industry and provide solutions to repair the damage. I was disappointed to hear the Minister comment that the Chancellor had been “overly generous” in his provision. I am sure that that is not something that many people across the country would recognise, but I am going to acknowledge that it was, hopefully, a Freudian slip. I am sure that he would not want people to believe that he honestly thought that. I hope that he will take away from today’s debate everybody’s contribution and will think seriously about what more can be done to ensure the security, viability and progression of this very important industry.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the beauty and wellbeing sector workforce.