Shop workers experiencing financial hardship and job insecurity, says charity


A hardship charity once chaired by Charles Dickens says shop workers are seeking its help due to the financial pain caused by the end of the universal credit uplift, fewer hours and the absence of sick pay.

The Fashion and Textile Children’s Trust (FTCT) steps in to assist children whose parents work in the fashion industry but are struggling to make ends meet.

Anna Pangbourne, the charity’s chief executive, said the drop in visitors to stores and shopping centres this Christmas and speculation about new Covid restrictions were causing fresh anxiety about job security.

The withdrawal of the £20-a-week universal credit top-up, which was introduced after the first lockdown, had been a shock for families, some of whom had got into debt during the pandemic said Pangbourne. “The effects of the initial lockdown are going to be felt for a long time,” she said. “We are continuing to reach out to industry families who don’t have the safety net of sick pay or savings.”

In 2021 the charity received nearly 2,500 applications for grants, after a record 3,516 inquiries in 2020 when the high street was rocked by the failure of big employers Debenhams and Sir Philip Green’s Arcadia and the first wave of pandemic store closures.

Families told the charity that the cut to universal credit had been felt keenly because most had started claiming it when the uplift was in place. Others said they had not received sick pay when off isolating or their children were ill or quarantining.

This week, as part of a £1bn package of emergency financial support for hospitality and leisure businesses, the government reopened the statutory sick pay rebate scheme, which refunds companies with up to 250 employees for payment to staff.

The rapid spread of the Omicron variant has led the union Usdaw to call on the government to review sick pay provisions. Staff who qualify for statutory sick pay receive £96.35 a week, but the retail workers’ union wants the payment to be based on normal earnings.

The FTCT said the end of the furlough job support scheme meant people had returned to work but were often receiving fewer hours, and the accompanying reduction in pay was affecting their ability to pay bills and replace broken household appliances at a time when the cost of living is soaring.

The charity, which was founded in 1853 by a group of philanthropic textile merchants to support the bereaved family of a colleague, helped 713 families in its last financial year. Its average grant is about £500, which Pangbourne said was used to provide children with “hot meals, comfy beds and warm clothes”.

The work of the charity, originally called the Purley Children’s Trust, attracted the attention of Charles Dickens who chaired its appeal board from 1856 to 1857.


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