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4th of July: UK Independence Day?

Thursday, 14 May 2020 10:29
UK hair salons play the waiting game: closed until 4th July at the earliest.

Hair salons in many states in America and a number of countries across Europe experience the joy and excitement of their grand re-opening after weeks of forced closure; meanwhile the hair industry in the UK wallows in a state of ambiguity and uncertainty.

The waters have been a little choppy over the past few days. After almost 7 weeks of lockdown, the UK hairdressing community waited with eager anticipation to find out what Boris Johnson’s blueprint for a return towards ‘a new normal’ might look like. The response came in a pre-recorded broadcast on Sunday that was blunt, yet muddled and confused and which lacked any kind of clarity whatsoever. The situation began to look clearer on Monday, when a 50-page document was published setting out a roadmap towards gradual easing of the lockdown in England, which, depending on those infamous 5 tests being met, would see primary schools, nurseries and shops partially reopening from 1 June onwards.

Waiting Game for Hair Salons

The trend in much of the Eurozone has been to see hair salons reopening in one of the earliest phases of the loosening of the lockdown. Already in Germany, Switzerland, Spain and several other countries in Europe, salons are up-and-running. France and Italy are now following suit – all of course subject to restrictions and regulations which vary in the detail from country to country, but which are focused in substance on common sense mutual respect for one another, alongside practices pertaining to personal hygiene and protection.

Those of us with an eye on the situation in Europe therefore thought that the same would apply in the UK, with hairdressers being among the first businesses to reopen. It was therefore something of a body blow to all of us to hear First Secretary of State, Dominic Raab, reveal that they will now not open until 4th July at the earliest: "From 4 July, at the earliest, we'll look at other sectors and that will include hospitality, but it will also include personal care and people like hairdressers,” he told Sky News' Kay Burley.

Industry Reaction

The decision to delay salon reopenings until early July means that by the time they do open, they’ll have been closed for almost three-and-a-half months. The reaction by UK professionals has, on the whole, been a mixture of anger and contempt, particularly as, when it comes to the reopening schedules, hair salons seem to have been grouped with leisure services such as restaurants and bars, rather than as a professional services. "How can hairdressing be classed in the same sector as the leisure services,” comments Tony Rizzo, Sanrizz & Founder of Alternative Hair Show. “Professional salons are far more protected than those businesses we have been grouped with under Personal Services. Even before the lockdown as basic procedure – we at Sanrizz had safety measures in place. Clients were seated two metres apart, masks were worn, both gowns  and towels were bagged for each individual client and all equipment sterilised after client. On returning to our salons, all our staff will have the essential Personal Protection Equipment to ensure both their and their clients' safety. By extending the lockdown we are giving freelance hairdressers the opportunity to risk people’s lives and ruin our businesses.

Errol Douglas MBE, feels the industry is being shown a complete lack of respect by the government: "We as professional hairdressers contribute a staggering £2 billion to the economy; we also employ a huge number of people," he explains. “People are crying out for hairdressing services – you only need to switch on the television or listen to the radio to hear how much. I want to get people back to work again and to have to contemplate that we may not go back until the late summer is unthinkable. We are possibly one of the most hygienic professions in the world and yes, we do wash our hands after every client and yes, we always have done, every client gets a new gown and always has done. We’ve also trained for five years plus in order to know how to look after people and can be relied upon to come back and do it well.

Staff Retention

On the plus side, we learned yesterday from Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, that the government’s furlough scheme is to be extended from the end-of-June to the end-of-October and kept at the current rate of 80% of salaries up to £2,500 per month. Good news for employees and employers alike, especially as, from July, the scheme will incorporate the option for a part-time return to work, with the government and the employer sharing the burden of the payroll. However, most official sources in our industry estimate that 60% of UK hairdressers are freelance, making them ineligible for the government’s furlough scheme. While some self-employed workers who are currently unable to work are eligible to claim the Self-employment Income Support Scheme offering 80% of average monthly profits up to £2,500 per month, many freelancers in our industry have fallen through the net, or have found out that their entitlement through the Self-employment Income Support Scheme is somewhat minimal. Furthermore, there has been no announcement as to whether the scheme will be extended for the self-employed beyond June.

The UK Hair Industry is therefore in a bit of a 'wait and see' situation. Some countries in Europe did receive government directives that hair salons would open on a certain date and then that date was brought forward when a proper assessment was subsequently made of how Personal Protection and Social Distancing measures could be implemented. Let's all hope the same will apply to the United Kingdom and reopening day turns out to be somewhat earlier than the 4th of July!

By Gary Kelly

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