One million Australians to lose their jobs by November

The coronavirus pandemic and subsequent economic shutdown will see more than 1 million Australians lose their jobs by November, new analysis suggests.

Figures released by the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre on Tuesday reveal Australia’s unemployment rate will rocket from 5.1 per cent past the 1992 high of 11.1 per cent as quickly as August before hitting 12.7 per cent in May 2021, the highest level since current unemployment reporting began in 1978.

People line up at Centrelink in Perth this week.Credit:Sharon Smith.

That means by November, 1 million will be out of work, on top of the existing 700,000 unemployed Australians. State by state New South Wales would be the hardest hit with more than 350,000 job losses followed by Victoria with 277,000.

The figures were derived by drilling down to impacts at nearly a job-by-job basis.

BCEC principal research fellow Rebecca Cassells admitted they took a more conservative approach than other projections but said worse losses were likely. Minister for Government Services Stuart Robert claimed "hundreds of thousands, maybe a million" people lost their jobs on Monday night alone as virus directives ramped up.

Professor Cassells said the COVID-19 fight could cost nearly 450,000 jobs in hospitality, entertainment, tourism and personal services by August 2021 while second-round impacts would be felt more broadly.

“We can expect to see a downturn in retail sales (excluding supermarkets) over the coming weeks,” she said.

“Households will start tightening their pockets and look to reduce spending in other areas, anticipating further job losses or reduced hours and income … this will have a flow-on effect to other sectors.”

After hospitality, BCEC predicted arts and recreation, construction and transport would be next hardest-hit sectors, with more than 100,000 job losses each over the next 18 months.

The social-isolation-driven shutdown of businesses was already straining government welfare services, which are struggling to process requests for boosted financial support payments.

Across the country lines of newly unemployed have snaked around bricks and mortar Centrelinks since Monday while Mr Robert said 2.8 million people accessed the website on Wednesday alone.

Professor Cassells said the government’s $550 weekly boost to jobseeker and student assistance payments was a reasonable safety net for workers over the next six months, but for many, it would still mean significant drops in income.

“The most important response by the government now is to take action to reduce activities that will increase the spread of the virus. This will necessarily see demand fall. And we need demand to fall to protect lives in the short-term,” she said.

The ASX is currently awash with companies revoking guidance estimates for the 2019-20 financial year and retailers announcing they were shutting stores.

On Tuesday, listed jewellery giant Michael Hill announced it was shutting its stores due to the pandemic, followed on Wednesday by Accent Group, the retailer behind brands such as The Athlete’s Foot and Hype DC.

Professor Cassells said businesses would inevitably fail thanks to a collapse in investment and consumer confidence and the only way to stage a decent recovery was the right kind of stimulus and, more importantly, an end to the virus.

“When we’re at the point where we feel comfortable we have the virus under control that is the time to really come in hard with a real fiscal stimulus package with infrastructure projects,” she said.

“I think that is what the government will already be planning to do but it is really dependent on how quickly they can get the virus under control.

“It will take something like getting a vaccine or some sort of medication that is going to really reduce the risk of death that people will feel like they can put their heads back up."

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Australians driving fashion for forgotten customers

It's an area global fashion brands from Tommy Hilfiger to Target have been dabbling in and closer to home, the world of inclusive and adaptive fashion is just getting started.

"There was just this forgotten group of people…and the space has changed dramatically, in that when I started, the internet wasn't available," the founder of Petal Back clothing, Linda Dugan, says.

Petal Back clothing founder Linda Dugan. Credit:Simon Schluter

Dugan, a former fashion buyer for Myer Grace Brothers, started Petal Back more than two decades ago after designing sleepwear for her grandmother who required daily care and needed assistance to dress.

Nursing staff asked Dugan to help by cutting her grandmother's nighties up the back to help the dressing process. She went one better by designing a wrap around structure that crossed over at the back like petals.

"The nurse said, 'That is the easiest nightie I've ever put on someone'," Dugan says.

Just years before Dugan had been told while working in corporate buying not to focus on fashion lines for women over 45 because traditional retail was honing in on younger buyers.

Dugan says it was against this backdrop she realised there was a cohort of older Australians who were completely cut out of fashion. Nobody was filling that gap and the problem was even more dire for those with mobility challenges.

With a couple of thousand dollars to create a design, she started producing more easy-to-wear products when nurses called up requesting them.

In 2020, Petal Back is looking at going global, launching a specific campaign to sell to US customers.

The one-woman operation has a turnover of around $250,000 a year, with Dugan saying the focus of the aged care royal commission combined with online sales is seeing a new frontier for those designing inclusive clothes.

Petal Back products are designed to be easy to wear for customers with limited movement, but the products are also focused on protecting the health and safety of family and care staff who help with dressing.

"Unless we protect our nurses from injury, who is going to care for these people?" she says.

Dugan is one of the earliest entrepreneurs in the online selling space for accessible clothing.

It's a space that is expected to grow significantly: people with disabilities have a global disposable income worth $8 trillion, according to trend research company WGSN.

WGSN's senior editor and trend forecaster Sarah Owen told tech conference Pause Fest last week that brands are only just starting to understand the potential of creating clothing and products for those with disabilities or mobility challenges.

"Fashion lines are creating more products and services … but for the most part, nobody is yet really understanding there needs to be a wider inclusivity and representation," she said.

That looks set to change with a cohort of "market making" consumers and entrepreneurs focused on inclusive designs.

Over the past two years, Tommy Hilfiger has been one of the first movers among big brands for their adaptive range, launching products that fit prosthetics and are comfortable for wheelchair users. Other brands like IZ Adaptive have also been growing.

It's a situation EveryHuman founder Matt Skerrit calls a "tipping point".

"People are starting to realise the buying power of these consumers," he says.

The former PwC employee launched the adaptive fashion platform less than two months ago, aiming to bring global adaptive fashion lines to Australian consumers.

The site, which was launched with around $300,000 of investment from friends and family, includes women's and mens underwear, shoes and 'seated wear' designed for wheelchair users.

Matthew Skerrit (centre) wants to put styles from overseas in the hands of Australians who want them.

Skerritt says it's too early to look at revenue figures but the feedback the company has received so far has been encouraging.

"The shoes in particular seem to be a game changer," he says.

"We’re trying to improve people’s confidence and provide choice where there hasn’t been before."

Another business in the space is Special Care Clothing which was started by Yvonne Campbell fifteen years ago after her mother was in a care facility with dementia and she found there were few clothing providers outside of the US.

She has since teamed up with kids-focused brand Able Clothing and also makes designs for customers to-order based on their needs.

Campbell says the bigger problem is that families and individuals often don't know what options are out there.

"A lot of people just have no idea this is available," she says.

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