An unprecedented campaign to support jobs in the British furniture industry launches this week, in a bid by the industry to save 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 revealed the devastating impact of the pandemic on the sector. With British furniture factories closed for many months, 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 10-50% of their workforce or go on to short time working in the autumn.

The British Furniture Confederation (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,” says BFC chairman Jonathan Hindle. “The home market is worth £12b 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 plight of high street retail during the height of the lockdown, the BFC decided to launch its campaign to boost autumn sales of British-made furniture, and a snap poll carried out supports its belief that Britons would back British if they knew what was at stake. 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 they would be more inclined to support buying British furniture than they were six months ago.

Half of those questioned (50%) had bought furniture in past 12 months, although nearly a quarter (24%) did not 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 cabinetmaking industry has virtually died out and we import nearly as much upholstery as we make,” says Jonathan. “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. 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: as well as Covid-19, Brexit 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%); 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%) – the national average was 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%); and those lliving in Aberdeen were the most likely to have bought furniture in the past 12 months (86%, national average 50%).