Crawley has been identified as the place in Britain at highest risk of widespread job losses amid the coronavirus crisis, according to a report warning that the economic damage will fall unevenly across the country.
More than half of all jobs in the West Sussex town are at risk of being furloughed or lost, according to the Centre for Cities thinktank, which said Crawleys high reliance on the aviation industry placed it at the heart of the economic storm.
As an employment hub for the nearby Gatwick airport, Crawley has the highest proportion of jobs in the aviation and aircraft manufacturing industries of 62 large towns and cities the thinktank examined, meaning its local economy could be the hardest hit in Britain.
More than 53,000 jobs are classed as vulnerable and very vulnerable in Crawley, of about 94,000 in the area. About 18% of jobs are in aviation, compared with 1% on average across other big towns and cities.
In a report highlighting the uneven economic damage caused by the coronavirus crisis for various places and groups in society, the Centre for Cities warned that about one in five jobs in large urban locations were vulnerable.
After Crawley, Luton and Derby are also expected to suffer as the unfolding economic crisis intensifies. As places with a similarly large proportion of employees in aviation, more than 40% of jobs are vulnerable. At the other end of the scale, Oxford, Worthing and Bradford are likely to face the most limited impact.
The effect of lockdown measures on local service industries, such as restaurants and shops, also means retail and hospitality workers are likely to be at risk across the country as the Covid-19 crisis continues.
Two-thirds of jobs in these sectors in cities are estimated to be vulnerable or very vulnerable, according to the Centre for Cities, though it warned places with links to aviation faced additional risks.
The intervention comes after the governments independent economics forecaster, the Office for Budget Responsibility, warned that UK gross domestic product (GDP) could collapse by 35% this spring and unemployment rise by more than 2 million.
Gatwick, the UKs second busiest airport after Heathrow, has closed its north terminal and reduced runway hours for at least a month, while British Airways has temporarily suspended flights from there.
Crawley had one of the fastest growth rates for self-employment in Britain before the coronavirus struck, driven by an explosion in taxi work given its location close to the airport between London and Brighton.
The number of people working for themselves in the town has increased by more than two-thirds between 2008 and 2016, according to the Centre for Cities, reflecting a boom in precarious work over the past decade as the economy recovered from the financial crisis.
Although the government has promised financial support for the self-employed in addition to its offer to pay 80% of the wages of company employees, millions risk slipping through the safety net arranged for people who work for themselves, owing to the terms of the support available.
Andrew Carter, the chief executive of the Centre for Cities, said a one-size-fits-all plan to cushion the economic blow would not work, urging ministers to devise local policies to tackle the fallout from Covid-19.
“While from a public health perspective Covid-19 is affecting every part of the UK, its economic impact will be felt more acutely in some places than others. This effect is linked to the local economy and it appears that places that are particularly reliant on aviation are likely to be hit hardest,” he said.
Diana Holland, assistant general secretary of the Unite trade union, which has a strong presence in the aviation, aerospace and fuel delivery industries, said: “This report by The Centre for Cities pinpointing the threat to those cities and towns heavily reliant on aviation, and the associated aerospace and fuel delivery sectors, makes the case even more strongly that the industry-specific package Unite has consistently called for, and the government has promised, must now be delivered.”