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British furniture industry launches campaign to save jobs

An unprecedented campaign to support jobs in the British furniture industry launches this week, in a bid by the industry to stave off up to 10,000 jobs at risk due to COVID 19.

A survey of National Bed Federation (NBF) and British Furniture Manufacturers (BFM) members in July 20201 revealed the devastating impact of COVID 19 on the sector. With British furniture factories closed for many months by the pandemic, manufacturers expect their sales to be down by an average of 25-30% this year. Around half also believe they may be forced to make redundancies of between 10 and 50% of their workforce or go on to short time working in the autumn.

The British Furniture Confederation’s (BFC) ‘Buy the Best, Buy British, Save Jobs’ campaign aims to make people aware of the jobs at stake in the wake of COVID 19 and to encourage them to seek out British made goods.

“These are unprecedented times and this is an unprecedented step by the whole of the British furniture industry which is coming together for the first time to support jobs across both manufacturing and retail,” said BFC chairman Jonathan Hindle. “The home market is worth £12 billion a year and if you add in the whole of the furnishings sector along with retail, the industry supports some 340,000 jobs. And every extra £1m spent on British furniture could support up to 50 manufacturing jobs in the sector.”

Concerned by the near-collapse of High Street retailing during the height of the pandemic lockdown, the BFC decided to launch its campaign to boost autumn sales of British made furniture. And a snap poll2 carried out supports its belief that Britons would back British if they knew what was at stake. It revealed:

  • More than three-quarters (78%) of those questioned said their buying decision would be influenced if they knew buying British would help safeguard 93,000 jobs in the country with women (83%) more likely than men (71%) to be swayed by that knowledge.
  • The effect of COVID 19 on the economy has had a significant impact on buying decisions. More than a third (34%) said that they’d be more inclined to support buying British furniture than they were six months ago (before COVID).
  • Half those questioned (50%) had bought furniture in past 12 months although nearly a quarter (24%) didn’t know where it was made. Younger people are more likely to have bought all-British with a third of 18 – 34-year-olds (33%) saying everything they had bought was made here.

According to the BFC, 50% of furniture bought in the UK is imported. “Our cabinet making industry has virtually died out and we import nearly as much upholstery as we make,” said Mr Hindle. “Only in mattresses do we have a relatively healthy home market but even that’s crept up from just 2% of imported sales 30 years ago to the current 22%.”

“UK furniture manufacturing has dramatically declined over the past 50 years, mostly because of cheaper labour in other countries” said Mr Hindle. “Factories overseas don’t always meet the UK’s requirements for a minimum living wage, safe working conditions and product compliance standards.

“Buying British is critical to the future of our industry which is why we are launching this campaign to raise awareness of the jobs at risk. We need to stop the rot and reverse the trends if we are to support jobs, increase the amount of products we make in this country and encourage investment in much needed skills for our young people.”

Other findings from the poll:

  • Brexit as well as COVID 19 has affected our desire to buy British furniture with 25% of those questioned saying they would be more likely to do so now than three years ago when Brexit negotiations became a reality.
  • Those in the 18 – 24 age group are the most likely (68%) to have bought furniture in the past 12 months while the over 55s were the least likely (34%).
  • The buying decisions of those in the 35 – 44 age group were more likely to have been effected by COVID 19 with 38% of that group saying they’d be more inclined to buy British furniture now than they were six months ago, before the pandemic (average 34%).

• Regional variations were apparent too:

– Of those who had bought furniture in the past 12 months, Londoners were the most likely to have made a purchase (61%) and those in East Anglia the least (35%) (national average 50%).

– People living in Northern Ireland are the most patriotic with 29% of those questioned saying everything they had bought, furniture-wise, in the past 12 months, was made in Britain (national average 13%). Along with people in Wales, 86% of those polled in Northern Ireland said knowing that buying British furniture would help safeguard 93,000 jobs would influence their buying decision (national average 78%).

– People living in Aberdeen were the most likely to have bought furniture in the past 12 months (86%, national average 50%).

– Those questioned in Swansea and Newcastle were the least likely to know where their furniture was made (36% in each city said they didn’t know, national average 24%).

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