2020 was the year that the beauty sector hit the headlines of mainstream news. As soon as the salons closed in late March, the reopening of the industry was high on the list of priorities for many people. Sadly not, it would seem, for the government, who dealt the industry a difficult hand with an extended lockdown and staggered reopenings. This has taken its toll; in our exclusive survey with the Local Data Company, we can reveal 4,578 hairdressers and salons have closed in Britain since the pandemic began.
The industry has been left in tatters, and the British Beauty Council predicts that the £28.4 billion industry will shrink by 30 percent by the Spring. For anyone who hasn’t followed the plight of the industry this year, let me catch you up to speed. There was collective outcry from the sector in June, when it was announced that hairdressers could open on July 4th (dubbed ‘super Saturday’) ahead of beauty therapists.
Why? Well, no reason, really, apart from the ‘scientific evidence’ from the government claiming that the beauty sector – which employs 220,000 people, 90 percent of whom are women – was too ‘high-risk’ to reopen. This is for an industry that prides itself on already using PPE years before most of us ever knew what it stood for, and an industry that can function on one-to-one settings with online diaries that meant they were way ahead of the curve in any sort of track and trace.
At the Telegraph, we launched our Why Can’t I Work campaign, a social media initiative to put pressure on the government to give us a date. And yet, it took for us, alongside the British Beauty Council, to organise a socially distanced march in London to get an answer from the government and a date set for mid-July.
So far, so simple? Sadly, not. It was announced that only treatments from the ‘neck-down’ could resume (manicures and pedicures were fine, but eyebrow threading and facials were not). Face treatments amount to 70 percent of beauty treatments, so it left tens of thousands of women still unable to get back to work, with little in the way of grants or financial help from the government. Face treatments were finally given the green light to resume in mid-August, and our Why Can’t I Work campaign successfully helped to get 220,000 people back to work in the UK.
But it was a bittersweet moment. Because along with the jubilation of being able to reopen, was the emotional strain that the previous few months had entailed. The beauty industry has largely been seen as a ‘fluffy and frivolous’ sector, often dismissed by the government. Case in point: in late June William Wragg MP asked Boris Johnson about the reopening of the beauty industry during Prime Minister’s Questions, and what followed was a one-minute exchange that summed up exactly how belittled the beauty industry felt. The two men sniggered throughout, prompting one industry member to say afterwards, “What’s funny about a trillion-dollar [sic] industry being ignored?!”. It didn’t seem a concern that the beauty sector wasn’t getting a look in.
We always knew the beauty industry was safe. We were proved right because in the months that followed, with no Covid outbreaks traced back to the beauty industry. In late October we revealed that the hair and beauty sector only contributed to the R rate ‘up to 0.05%’. So what really was at play here? I firmly believe that the beauty sector was never even considered in the plans with the government – it was dismissed as a group of ‘massage parlours and nail bars’ (Johnson’s words, not mine) and not a once-booming British sector that provided flexible and lucrative work for the thousands of people working within it. The hair and beauty industry is worth more than the British car manufacturing industry, but the way they were treated, you wouldn’t think so.