The retail sector has lost 85,000 jobs in the past year, according to a report demanding the government acts to support flagging high streets.
The British Retail Consortium (BRC) repeated its call for an overhaul on business rates as it outlined its Retail Employment Monitor covering the third quarter of the year.
It said the period marked the 15th consecutive quarter of decline in employment – with both full-time and part-time workers hit.
It also showed falling numbers of hours worked and the group said it expected the weak employment trend to continue despite 62% of retailers indicating plans to increase staff in the Christmas quarter.
The BRC said its findings were in “stark contrast” to the UK’s labour market as a whole, which has shown record UK employment until the most recent figures.
The retail sector – particularly high streets – has been battling a toxic cocktail of weak consumer confidence and surging costs from things such as rising business rates, minimum wage rules and rents.
Ministers have provided some financial support in the form of a £1bn Future High Streets Fund – to help struggling town centres reinvent themselves as shoppers shun high streets in greater numbers in favour of online shopping.
Footfall figures – an indicator of consumer confidence – have remained weak since 2018 – a year that saw Toys R Us and Maplin collapse on the same day.
Since then, a raft of big names including House of Fraser and Debenhams have collapsed only to be rescued.
Others – even Sir Philip Green’s Topshop empire – have been forced to go cap in hand to creditors in return for store closures and rent cuts.
There are critics who point out that some of the damage has been self-inflicted, as many major chains have been slow to adapt to online shopping.
Next is among big fashion names to have shielded its in-store performance through a strong digital presence.
Primark, which only sells via stores, has bucked the trend through a value-focused business model.
BRC chief executive, Helen Dickinson, said: “Weak consumer demand and Brexit uncertainty continue to put pressure on retailers already focused on delivering the transformation taking place in the industry.
“While MPs rail against job losses in manufacturing, their response to larger losses in retail has remained muted.
“The government should enact policies that enable retailers to invest more in the millions of people who choose to build their careers in retail.
“In order to promote innovation, training and productivity, government must reform both the broken business rates system, and the inflexibilities of the apprenticeship levy.”