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Hair industry calls for key reforms to aid UK’s post-pandemic recovery

Gaelle Walker
03 February 2021

The UK’s hairdressing sector has the power to play a key role in the UK’s post-pandemic recovery, if it is backed by the right kind of support and reforms, a new report complied by Creative HEAD, with the backing of independent hairdressers, the National Hair & Beauty Federation, the Freelance Hairdressers Association and the British Beauty Council, claims.

The £6.3bn a year sector offers significant opportunity to young workers, with more than half of the sector’s current workforce aged between 16-34, the Making The Cut report found.

Hairdressing also boasts one of the highest number of female entrepreneurs, with 82% of the UK’s 44,800 salons owned and run by women, while women also account for 90% of the total sector’s work force.

In addition, the 259,200 jobs that hairdressing creates are also not at risk of being replaced by machines, as they are with many other industries, the report said.

However, the industry, which is now powered by a growing self-employed workforce (more than 60% of workers are now self-employed) continues to face a number of key challenges and barriers to growth – separate to the Covid19 crisis, it added.

A “lack of fundamental business skills, and awareness of how and where to acquire those skills” was hindering growth, with the challenge particularly acute among self-employed stylists, “who often go from ‘hairdresser’ to ‘business owner’ overnight,” the report said.

A reliance on inefficient technology was also “holding the industry back,” in terms of capturing, measuring and analysing key business data, with only 3% of appointments currently booked online and 75% of salons still using paper appointment books, it found.

Growing competition and a saturated market was also forcing salons and barbershops to compete against each other for staff as well as clients, with salons across the country reporting recruitment difficulties well ahead of the Covid19 crisis.

Demand for apprenticeships has also dropped by 30% since 2019; with many salon owners unable to pay for apprentices and self-employed hairdressers not taking on new staff.

Additionally, while the cost of haircuts has “not risen particularly in the last 10 years” hikes in employment costs, rents and business rates have “dramatically impacted on margins,” the report added.

The report makes a number of key recommendations, which it says could help to kick-start the industry as the UK emerges from the Covid19 crisis and help it to become a key “post pandemic saviour.”

Topping its list of recommendations is a call for a review of the impact of National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage increases on the trend to self-employment in the hairdressing industry, along with a review of apprenticeship incentives, which it claims are “insufficient and poorly constructed” by disqualifying precious school leavers who have already worked in the salon as Saturday staff.

It also urged key reforms to VAT and National Insurance, which would allow salons with employees to compete on a more level playing field with those who use self-employed stylists.

Access to training and education in fundamental business skills should also be improved, with devolved authorities and support intermediaries, including LEPs and Growth Hubs, resourced to deliver advice, support and finance “specifically tailored to the needs of hairdressing businesses,” it said.

Financial institutions should also be encouraged to adapt their criteria to increase their support for self-employed workers, it added.

“As the country begins to rebuild after the pandemic, it will be critical to ensure women and young people have more opportunities to work and hairdressing will be an important part of the puzzle in the recovery of the UK economy post-Covid,” the report concluded.

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