Retail workers in Britain are more likely to face unemployment rather than finding another job amid mounting numbers of job losses on the high street, with younger staff hardest hit, according to a report.
The study by the Resolution Foundation thinktank found the retail industry now has the highest rate of redundancies of any sector of the economy, amid the rapid rise of shop closures across the country.
Growth in consumer spending eased last year, worsened by the rise in inflation that followed the Brexit vote, while changing spending habits and a move online have also harmed traditional bricks-and-mortar stores, which typically employ greater numbers of workers.
In a worrying signal for retail workers facing redundancy, the Resolution Foundation said as many as 31% exit their roles straight into unemployment, rather than into another job, compared to the average of 26% for all areas of the economy.
Two in five ex-retail staff are unemployed for at least six months, with greater risks for younger workers. As many as three in five former retail workers are under the age of 30 – despite barely a third of the workforce being in this age bracket.
Daniel Tomlinson, research and policy analyst at the Resolution Foundation, said: “Life has become tougher for those leaving retail, who are more likely to find themselves unemployed – and for longer, too.
“While policymakers can’t reverse major and long-lasting changes in how we shop, they can and should focus on the people and places most affected.”
Although job losses in the retail sector appear to have risen in recent years, the study found there had been a long-term shift away from retail employment in the economy since 2003.
The report said the number of jobs in the sector had shrunk as a share of the overall UK workforce from 10.8% to 9.5%, equivalent to 320,000 missing positions.
“Britain, far from being a ‘nation of shopkeepers’, now has a lower share of workers in wholesale and retail than Germany,” it said.
Despite repeated rounds of job losses, more than enough roles have opened up in other areas to compensate, particularly in hospitality and social care, although the rise in the redundancy rate poses fresh challenges.
The report also said retail continued to be a low-paying sector, with the typical hourly wage – £8.80 – about a third lower than typical pay across the entire economy of £12.73.