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Longer Sunday trading hours would be bad news for workers, with little benefit for the economy

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3 min read

Extending Sunday trading hours would have little economic benefit, and be damaging for the workers who have kept us fed through this pandemic

I believe that the proposed changes to the current arrangements for Sunday trading are unnecessary and would, in fact, have a detrimental effect on families, putting extra strain on them during these unprecedented times.

There is a common misconception that the general public vastly support loosening Sunday trading restrictions, however, polling from May 2020 from Populus shows the overwhelming support of the public for the existing Sunday trading hours. Only 21% of the public oppose the current rules, while 58% support them. Many of those that oppose changes would like to see greater restrictions on Sunday trading hours.

Not only do the general public not support the relaxing of trading restrictions but the people that the new regulations would affect most – the shopworkers – oppose the proposed liberalisation of Sunday trading Laws. A USDAW survey of shopworkers shows that 91% are opposed to longer opening hours because of the impact on family time and work-life balance.

Longer opening hours would not support the post-pandemic economic recovery. There is no link between opening hours and consumers’ disposable income

Shopworkers deserve support after stepping up to help feed the nation throughout this pandemic, many of whom have worked longer hours already to cover absent colleagues following public health advice.

Longer opening hours would not support the post-pandemic economic recovery. There is no link between opening hours and consumers’ disposable income; longer opening hours would raise operating costs for retailers and there is no evidence consumers are struggling to access shops. 

The main impact would be displacing trade from small shops and high streets to large out-of-town retail parks and supermarkets. Oxford Economics analysis has shown that extending Sunday trading hours would displace weekly sales from local shops to supermarkets. The change will not facilitate spending that otherwise would not have happened.

Oxford Economics analysis of the temporary removal of Sunday trading hours in 2012 across England and Wales showed a loss in sales to local shops worth £870 million and estimate permanent removal of Sunday trading hours would cause a net loss of 3,270 jobs to the grocery sector.

None of the seven-substantive parliamentary, academic and industry-led high street reviews since 2011 have recommended changing Sunday trading hours. Retailers are already enforcing Covid-19 secure guidelines and longer opening hours would have no effect on the effectiveness of social distancing. 

Furthermore, removing Sunday trading would fail the Government’s ‘family test’ for policymaking. These proposals come at a time when 48% report that work affects their time spent together as a family and ability to manage their wellbeing. Parents who work Sundays are not, on the whole, able to make up for time lost with their children. Extending opening hours would only serve to increase high rates of overtime and weekend working and exacerbate problems sourcing childcare.     

Abolishing the current Sunday trading regulations would erode the specialness of the day and turn a Sunday into a regular working day for many people. Although workers can theoretically opt-out of Sunday working, three months’ notice is required and replacement hours do not have to be offered, reducing incomes amongst low-paid workers.

The proposed liberalisation of Sunday trading laws during this unprecedented time of crisis would not benefit key workers and would in fact take away from precious time that they spend with their families each week and must be opposed.

Overall, there is a strong case for retaining existing Sunday trading laws as a compromise to allow consumers to access shops whilst maintaining a balance for shop workers and between large stores and small shops which are the bedrock of our high streets.


Bob Blackman is Conservative MP for Harrow East

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