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Sunday Trading

July 13, 2015

sunday special 4I remember when the Tories first allowed supermarkets to open on Sundays. I resisted it, not on the grounds of the ‘observance of the Lord’s Day’ but in solidarity with low-paid workers who’d see even less of their families.

Then I caved in because Sunday shopping was convenient. I remember being hypocritically offended, after a Sunday mass, to see the priest in front of me buying a lottery ticket – while I was behind him about to buy cigarettes!

Sunday SpecialThe Church Times (10.vii.16) explains: Currently, large stores can open for up to six hours on Sundays, but the Chancellor, George Osborne, used his Budget speech on Wednes­day afternoon to announce his plans to devolve responsibility for Sunday-trading laws to directly elected mayors and local authorities.

Labour Andy Burnham tweeted: “Sundays are only day people who work in shops can bank on some time with their kids. I will oppose this all the way.”

The leader of the shop workers’ union USDAW, John Hannett, said that the Government should “honour the promise of a full consultation and parliamentary process for any pro­posed changes to the Sunday Trading Ad.

“This Act is a Great British com­promise, which has worked well for over 20 years and gives everyone a little bit of what they want. Retailers can trade, customers can shop, staff can work; whilst Sunday re­mains a special day, different to other days, and shop workers can spend some time with their family.

“So it is difficult to see how any changes to the Ad would maintain the fair and balanced settlement agreed by all sides.”

A Church of England spokesman said: “A common day of rest is im­portant for family life, for commun­ity life, and for personal well-being. Increased Sunday trading will in­evitably lead to further erosion of shared leisure time, when a majority of people can count on being able to do things together. It will have an impact on community activities of many kinds, amateur sport, contact across extended families, and reli­gious observance.”

The Christian public-affairs char­ity Care said that the move would “place even greater strains on our society’s fragile social fabric”. Its CEO, Nola Leach, said: “Family breakdown already costs the Ex­chequer in the region of £46 billion a year — £34 billion more than the savings the Chancellor wants to make by cutting the welfare budget.”

sunday special 3The Keep Sunday Special cam­paign says that the move contravenes assurances that it was given by the Prime Minister in April. “It is hugely disappointing that this Government should be trying yet again to fundamentally alter the balance and harmony of our national life in such an underhand manner,” the campaign group’s research dir­ector, John Ashcroft, said.

And what about corner shops? Mine opens from 0700 to 2300 on Sundays, to compete with a nearby small Morrisons which can open for more than six hours on a Sunday because it is smaller than the size of shop which is limited to sex hours.

The Church Times continues: Relaxing the restrictions on supermarkets and larger stores will mean longer working hours, more congestion, fewer small shops, less time that shop workers can spend with their families, and yet more of the nation’s time given over to acquiring things. These harmful effects were the reasons that commercial pressure from large retail corporations has been resisted until now ­and should be still. The new “evidence” to support George Osborne’s tilt at Sundays is apparently a 3.2-per-cent rise in retail sales in London when restrictions were slackened during the 2012 Olympics. It’s a breathtakingly dirty statistic, given the large influx of visitors at the time. Retailers are said to be line for £200 million more in sales (Daily Mirror: “hundreds of millions”), a mere 0.2 per cent of the £100 billion turnover of UK retailers last year. The need to compete with online sales has also been mentioned, though Sunday trading is hardly going to fix this. In any case, there is seldom an expectation that orders placed on a Sunday will be fulfilled the same day.

Sunday special 2The usual figures have remarked on the need to compete with other world economies and remove unwelcome regula­tions; and those who oppose the move, if quoted at all, are dismissed. The Financial Times suggested that the Chancellor’s proposal would “antagonise corner shops and the religious right”. This is thoughtless: the religious left, if these terms have any meaning, is just as concerned about the new burdens this would impose on shop assistants, suppliers, transport workers, town-centre service personnel, and on and on. And it is a slur to suggest that Christian opposition to Sunday trading is in some way an attempt to protect the Church’s interests. God will continue to be worshipped in the same way — just not by those who have to staff the tills at the supermarket. Mr Osborne proposes that local councils be given the free­dom to decide whether to lift trading restrictions. He must know that traders in Town A will be forced to respond if they see trade going to Town B. As slippery slopes go, this has a steep gradient. Nor is there a soft landing at the bottom: once town centres and out-of-town supermarkets are functioning seven days a week, the only thing to stop all other aspects of commercial life following suit is the reluctance of those managing them to lose their leisure time. There is something deeply unpleasant about the wealthier members of society preserving their quiet weekends while requiring those in the retail and service industries to work on the two days when they might spend time with their children. From various bits of rhetoric in the past, David Cameron’s government gave the impression that it valued family life, and wished parents to take the nurture of their children more seriously. There is much to be lost here, and very little to be gained.

Christians on the Left (former Christian Socialist Movement): This proposal, cleverly delegated to local authority leaders, will place additional pressure on workers and families on what is still seen as the traditional day of rest, religious observance, worship and a day to spend quality time with family members and close friends.

Whilst we need to take seriously the economic challenges we face Christians on the Left does not believe that society and relationships should be subordinated to economic imperatives. The ordering or our economic life should sustain family life and the common life. We should be supporting Sunday’s long established unique and sacred place, not squeezing it out of existence. We affirm that we can renew the economy without compromising the day of rest and family time. Britain has a well cited productivity issue. However, this will not be solved necessarily by working longer hours.

This issue is a crucial issue for Christians associated with the labour movement to mount a persuasive argument to defend what we cherish – it is a pro-family, pro-faith and pro-worker issue and it is a natural concern for Christians on the Left to speak into.

John Ashcroft, Keep Sunday Special “What is at heart in this debate is the whole nature of our national life. This is a national debate and will have to be settled in our national Parliament. There can be no attempt to try and slip this round the side of the legislative process. “Keep Sunday Special believes in having time for family, friends and community. We believe in time to rest and enjoy ourselves. We believe in working hard and living life to the full. We believe in keeping just one day a week a bit special.” There need to be some limits to protect the things that matter most – people who need to relax at the same time as the rest of us, families that need to spend time together especially those with children, communities that need to be preserved, relationships that need protection, local businesses that need to be given a fair chance to survive and thrive, and we need to respect the views of people of faith.”

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady: “ Turning Sunday into another Saturday for major retailers would take precious family time away from shop workers. There is no pressure for this from shoppers and it may push some smaller retailers out of business. ”

Labour Party: ‘Will the Chancellor undertake to consult on his announcement on Sunday trading? He needs to consult on this fully with the British Retail Consortium, the Federation of Small Businesses, the Association of Convenience Stores, the unions whose members work in these stores and councils’

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