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UK hospitality leaders fear coronavirus has already cost 500,000 jobs

Tom Belger
Finance and policy reporter
Cambridge City Centre, England. (Doug Peters/EMPICS)

Hospitality chiefs fear the coronavirus may have forced firms to slash 500,000 jobs in the past three weeks, with sales collapsing in restaurants, cafes, hotels and pubs.

Firms facing months of lost income are already laying off staff across the sector. Many fear for their survival as footfall has nosedived and the outlook turns ever bleaker for the year ahead, with expectations growing of a government-imposed shutdown.

Yahoo Finance UK can reveal hospitality leaders now believe the scale of job losses stands at around 500,000 roles axed since the start of the month.

A spokesman for UKHospitality, the sector’s main trade body, said: “It’s challenging to get an accurate figure as the situation is very fast-moving, but the latest intel is around 500,000 jobs lost since the start of the month.”

He said UKHospitality analysis suggests a further 500,000 seasonal workers may no longer be offered jobs in the sector.

Read more: New rights for workers could help prevent job losses

It comes a day after the body’s CEO Kate Nicholls expressed her disappointment that the government had not announced further measures to support jobs, warning millions were still at risk.

“Hospitality businesses are collapsing because they have no income and the situation is deteriorating daily. A fast-moving tide of redundancies is sweeping through the sector and every day of delay sees more and more people lose their jobs,” said Nicholls.

The estimated £130bn ($150bn) hospitality sector, including everything from bars to contract caterers to leisure venues, is the UK’s third biggest private sector employer, according to the trade body.

Prime minister Boris Johnson used his daily coronavirus briefing on Thursday to urge firms to “stand by your workers” as the government would support them.

But the government has urged the public to avoid restaurants, theatres and other venues to minimise the risk of spreading the virus. There are widespread concerns the £330bn ($381bn) of loans and guarantees the chancellor promised firms earlier this week will not be enough to get the sector through the crisis.

Many firms are reluctant to take out such loans with no clear route to recovery and repayment in sight as the pandemic and measures to tackle it hammer the economy. Small business leaders have also said government loan schemes may prove too slow and ill-adapted to their needs.

Read more: Prime minister tells firms to ‘stand by your workers’

The government should also roll out a new ‘statutory retention pay’ (SRP) for employees if work dries up because of the virus but employers wish to keep them long-term, according to one think tank.

Staff would receive at least two-thirds of their wages, with the state refunding much of the costs. The Resolution Foundation think tank said it would help prevent a damaging rise in unemployment that could disrupt firms and leave long-term scars.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is expected to announce new measures to support employers to keep staff and safeguard household incomes at the government’s coronavirus briefing later on Friday.