I thank you, Mr Gray, for chairing today’s debate, and I thank the 209 petitioners in my constituency—couples waiting for their happy day and the many people working in the weddings industry. I have met many people working in the industry, and last Thursday held a meeting with people who worked in all sorts of trades. I learned much, and it was fascinating to hear that 400,000 jobs across the country are dependent on the wedding industry, bringing in an income of £14.7 billion. In addition, we have a large tourist trade in the wedding industry, which attracts many couples to the UK to get married, so this issue is extensive for the economy as a whole and for people’s livelihoods and jobs.
An industry that should bring so much joy is, at the moment, bringing so much hardship. In the first two months of lockdown, people experienced the cancellation or postponement of weddings, so staff could not be furloughed; they had to work flat out to try to support couples during that time. Then, of course, they moved into the harsh reality of being unable to access vital Government support, the self-employed income support scheme and grants. We have heard about the VAT measures, which many organisations have been unable to access, and business rates, because many do not have direct premises.
The hardship has been acute for many. I heard from those working in the sector—predominantly women, I have to emphasise—that they had saved up for their first home and are therefore unable to access such things as universal credit. They are now living off their savings, eight months into the lockdown and pandemic. However, they described the future as well, which is where the Government can really help.
The announcement of the further lockdown and the extension of the furlough scheme to next March has brought a presumption that weddings will not be resuming any time soon. We therefore need the publication of a comprehensive plan on weddings so that people can start making plans. To give an example, one celebrant had 48 weddings booked for this year. Two went ahead as micro-weddings, 36 moved into next year and are now being rearranged because people are not confident, one moved into 2022 and seven were lost. That is the scale of the impact of the cancellation of weddings. Many are deferring for the second or even third time.
We therefore need to ensure that weddings are safe and socially distanced. If they can be certificated, that would be really helpful. Also, there is a lack of evidence to suggest that these are places where infections will be spread, an inference made by Public Health England. If there has been any evidence of infection, it would be good to have that data from Public Health England, but we need to ensure that there is testing and that specific support is introduced. Those working in the wedding industry in my constituency have asked for a scheme akin to the film and TV production restart scheme to help restart the industry.