Covid-19 Economic Support Package

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:45 pm on 14th October 2020.

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Photo of Carolyn Harris Carolyn Harris Labour, Swansea East 2:45 pm, 14th October 2020

It is a pleasure to speak after my hon. Friend Beth Winter.

Yesterday, I received a message from a beauty salon owner, and she told me:

“5 out of 8 appointments cancelled today due to clients being in contact with someone who may have Coronavirus.”

Incidentally, before either of the Members on the Conservative Benches start patting themselves on the back that that was because of the track and trace system; it was not. It is all linked to a local outbreak in a local pub. This woman is a successful business owner, who is now left wondering how long she can sustain this level of cancellations without financial support. Having only been open for two months following the extended forced closure of the industry, she has been attempting a new normal turnover, which is already considerably less than prior to the pandemic. The spike in cases means that, this month, she is looking at being down 20% on that new normal. She is struggling; she is worried; and she is asking when the Government will recognise this industry, which has been constantly overlooked and undervalued throughout the pandemic, and offer it some financial support. My response to her is that I am wondering the very same thing.

Over the past six months, I have asked on countless occasions for support for this industry. I have sat in this Chamber while the Prime Minister openly sniggered when asked a question by one of his own MPs about supporting these businesses. His trademark flippancy and ridiculing of a sector struggling to survive is not welcome, and it has left some 370,000 employees, mostly women, feeling belittled, undervalued and angry.

As co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on beauty, aesthetics and wellbeing—with my good friend, my hon. Friend Judith Cummins—I have heard heartbreaking stories of job losses, businesses collapsing and financial insecurity for those who work in this sector. I have asked in this Chamber for the beauty and wellbeing sector to be taken seriously and to be treated with the same respect as other industries. I have written to Ministers, to the Chancellor and to the Prime Minister, and I have asked for a support package to help these businesses survive, but I feel my pleas have constantly fallen on deaf ears.

This multibillion-pound industry is currently on its knees. It is great to see the Chancellor outlining the money that will be available to support other businesses to help them survive, and I wholeheartedly support this, but where is the help for our beauty and wellbeing sector? The hospitality and leisure sectors have now had a VAT reduction to 5% for more than three months. It has been a real boost to industries that have struggled due to closures at the first peak of the pandemic and reduced income as they started to reopen.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I ask again: can this VAT reduction be extended to the hair, beauty, spa and wellness sectors? Can they, too, be given this financial support to help them survive with further measures looking increasingly likely, and if not, can the Minister ask the Chancellor please to tell me and the 370,000 people who earn their living from the sector, why not?