RETAIL workers have taken a colossal hit following hundreds of store closures as figures show 50,000 jobs have been axed in the first half of the year.
Numbers crunched by the Press Association show approximately 50,000 staff have been made redundant, or seen their role put under threat, with the bulk of them working for well-known high street chains.
In the past few weeks alone, House of Fraser has put more than 6,000 jobs at risk with a radical store closure plan, while Poundworld has plunged into administration, endangering a further 5,100.
It adds to the tough times endured by Toys R Us and Maplin, which collapsed earlier this year, while the likes of Prezzo, Byron and Jamie’s Italian have shut restaurants and culled hundreds of jobs.
Retailers have been hammered by Brexit-fuelled inflation, soaring business rates and falling consumer confidence.
Responding to the bombshell figures, the Trade Union Congress called on the Government to “up its game” to stem the tide.
The union organisation’s general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said: ‘Retail depends on customers having money in their pockets. One reason why some shops are struggling is because wage growth has been very weak.
‘Government needs to up its game, boost the economy and invest in great jobs that people can live on.’
Paddy Lillis, general secretary of the shop workers’ union USDAW, said the scale of store closures was ‘alarming’.
He added: ‘We are very concerned about the impact of Brexit increasing prices at the same time as incomes being squeezed, customers changing their shopping habits and new technology being introduced.’
Experts said 2018 will go down in history as the ‘year of the Company Voluntary Arrangement’ - an insolvency procedure used to push through several store closure programmes this year.
Soaring business rates have been flagged as a major contributor to retail failures.
Robert Hayton, head of UK business rates at Altus Group, said: ‘Business rates are rarely the sole driver for insolvencies but certainly a contributory factor, with bills having risen by more than a fifth through inflation during the seven years before last year’s revaluation.
‘Add that to the lethal cocktail of other increased operating costs for the national living wage and apprenticeship levy and it creates the perfect storm for 2018 being the year of the CVA.’
Figures from Altus show that the average business rates bill for a department store in England and Wales this year for rocketed 26.6 per cent to £717,952 following last year’s government revaluation.
Away from retail, BT is axing around 13,000 jobs as part of a revamped cost-cutting drive, with two-thirds of the cuts to fall in the UK.
The collapse of outsource company Carillion has so far resulted in the loss of more than 2,375 jobs, with further pain expected.
Earlier this year, British Gas owner Centrica announced that it is to axe 4,000 roles over the next three years under a ramped-up efficiency programme.