Beauty sector angry and puzzled as pubs reopen, but not salons

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Ministers accused of sexism for overlooking industry in lockdown easing plan

After three months in lockdown, many had assumed the days of DIY pedicures would soon be over. But, unlike cinemas and hairdressers, nail bars and beauty and tanning salons will be forced to keep their doors shut on Saturday, with no idea when they can reopen them.

“It’s really disappointing,” said Alix Claxton-Wood, the owner of Sheffield’s Hudson & Wood beauty salon. “We had a fully booked diary for the day that we were going to open.”

Beauty businesses have incurred huge losses throughout lockdown. “It’s affected us massively,” said Shea Osei who owns Shea’D Beauty in Stratford, east London. She was mindful of the impact of closure on her self-employed staff and also on clients: “Going to a nail salon is a part of some people’s wellbeing, it affects them humongously. It’s a little getaway for an hour or so,” she said.

The government has been accused of sexism for omitting salons from premises permitted to reopen on Saturday. The criticisms were sharpened by a tone of flippancy, evident this week when the issue was raised amid laughter at PMQs. Around 90% of the beauty industry workforce is female, according to the British Beauty Council. That figure, along with a predominantly female clientele, means women are disproportionately affected by the continuing closure.

“Contrary to what certain members of parliament – and Boris Johnson himself – may believe, the hair and beauty industry is nothing to laugh at,” said a spokesperson for the beauty treatment bookings website Treatwell. According to Millie Kendall, chief executive of the British Beauty Council, the industry contributes £30bn to Britain’s GDP – “more than motor vehicle manufacturing, but you wouldn’t see MPs laughing out loud at mention of this sector during PMQs”.

For many salon owners, the fact that pubs are being allowed to reopen deepens the upset. While people in the beauty industry work easily one-to-one, “social-distancing [in pubs]is going to go out the window after a couple of drinks,” said Claxton-Wood.

The industry is perplexed by the decision. Throughout the government consultation process on easing lockdown restrictions, the beauty sector was grouped alongside hair as a “close-contact” service. “No one has openly admitted why hair has been prioritised,” said Kendall. “There has been some mention of it not being face-to-face, but neither is pedicure.”

She sees the government’s treatment of the industry as based on “systemic ignorance”. “We are perceived as frivolous and non-essential, just a bit of makeup,” she said.

Claxton-Wood described the past three months as “very stress-inducing”. The further delay will result, according to Kendall, in business closures and “in some cases, 30% redundancies across the services sector”.

MPs have questioned the prime minister’s decision, and the all-party parliamentary group for beauty, aesthetics and wellbeing wrote last week to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) urging it to be clear when the sector might reopen, and requesting that a BEIS taskforce address the issue.

Many in the industry argue that they are well prepared to reopen. Customer behaviour, they say, shows trust in the sector. Treatwell reports that, given the widespread belief that the beauty sector would reopen with pubs and restaurants, daily bookings for nail treatments have risen by 600% compared with the pre-lockdown period. Osei made the point that nail salons had always been clean: “It’s nothing new for us to have barbicide in our salon.”

“I do feel a little bit as though the beauty industry has been sidelined and forgotten,” said Claxton-Wood. For Osei, “it just seems we’re at the back end and not that important.”

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