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Islington’s smaller shops hit hard by virus crash

Analysis finds minority workers are struggling most

04 December, 2020 — By Calum Fraser

Janet Barnes serves Jamaican food but has lost her match day trade

ETHNIC minority workers are bearing the brunt of the financial crisis in Islington’s “hourglass” labour market, a report into the economic impact of the coronavirus has warned.

Business owners said that they feared for the future as all shops, restaurants and bars were given the green light to reopen on what was dubbed “wild Wednesday”.

While there were long queues at chains like Sports Direct and H&M in the Angel for a series of flash pre-Christmas sales, smaller retailers did not see the same rush.

Ram Singh, 63, who has run a travel goods shop in the Nag’s Head Market in Holloway Road for more than 15 years, told the Tribune he had been forced to borrow money from his family and banks to get him through the two lockdowns.

Speaking on Wednesday, the grandfather-of-nine said: “I have rent due on Saturday but I am struggling. I had to borrow £1,200 from the bank to fill my stock and I haven’t sold it yet. This month I have had no money coming in. This is a very difficult time.”

A report written by the council’s economy chief Labour councillor Asima Shaikh, discussed last night (Thursday) at the Town Hall, laid bare the dire situation many in the borough are facing.

Ram Singh runs a business selling travel goods

It described Islington’s labour market as an “hourglass” with those in well-paid white collar jobs which can be done from home at the top, while those in service industries that require face-to-face interactions are at the bottom.

The report added: “Many residents were running small and micro businesses in sectors like fashion, retail, leisure and hospitality, a majority of whom were already pessimistic about their long-term viability. These businesses were found to be disproportionately owned by women and people from BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) communities, and typically operating with low levels of turnover compared to those in sectors like IT, research and development, and public relations, all of which have a strong presence in Islington’s economy.”

Unemployment rates in Islington have risen from 3 per cent of the workforce in March to more than 7 per cent in October.

Cllr Shaikh’s report highlights particular areas in the borough that have been “most affected” by the economic downturn including the Nag’s Head which has the “highest dependency on retail” employing over a quarter of the local workforce.

Cllr Asima Shaikh

Janet Barnes ran Aunty’s Kitchen in Hornsey Road for four years serving Jamaican cuisine to the nearby London Metropolitan University students and to Arsenal fans on match days.

However, with students at home and Premier League matches played behind closed-doors, she said: “I am definitely worried. We have to think of rents first before I could consider any profits.We have had some help from the government and the council but it is not enough.”

A hairdresser in the market, who did not want to give her name, also said it had been a “tough day” as not a single customer had come in.

One market trader however, Karima Feshitan, was optimistic about the future.

She said: “I have just started a new stall. I was selling online so I now want to sell to more people here. I’m sure it will get better.”

This week the Arcadia Group, which owns high street chains like Topshop and Dorothy Perkins, went into administration while beleaguered department store Debenhams went under.

The council has launched a campaign to encourage residents to “shop local” this Saturday.

A government spokeswoman said: “We have put in place a wide-ranging package of financial support and extended the furlough scheme until March 2021 to help business through this period.”

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