Oil prices hit their highest in four months after two attacks on Saudi Arabian facilities on Saturday knocked out more than 5% of global supply.

At the start of trading, Brent crude jumped 19% to $71.95 a barrel, while the other major benchmark, West Texas Intermediate, rose 15% to $63.34.

Prices eased back slightly after US President Donald Trump authorised the release of US reserves.

It could take weeks before the Saudi facilities are fully back on line.

State oil giant Saudi Aramco said the attack cut output by 5.7 million barrels per day.

The drone attacks on plants in the heartland of Saudi Arabia’s oil industry included hitting the world’s biggest petroleum-processing facility.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Tehran was behind the attacks. Iran accused the US of “deceit.”

Later Mr Trump said in a tweet the US knew who the culprit was and was “locked and loaded” but waiting to hear from the Saudis about how they wanted to proceed.

In another tweet he said there was “plenty of oil!”.

What will be the impact on oil supply?

The Saudis have not gone into any detail about the attacks, barring saying there were no casualties, but have given a few more indications about oil production.

Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said some of the fall in production would be made up by tapping huge storage facilities.

The kingdom is the world’s biggest oil exporter, shipping more than seven million barrels daily.

“Saudi authorities have claimed to control the fires, but this falls far short of extinguishing them,” said Abhishek Kumar, head of analytics at Interfax Energy in London. “The damage to facilities at Abqaiq and Khurais appears to be extensive, and it may be weeks before oil supplies are normalised.”

Saudi Arabia is expected to tap into reserves so that exports can continue as normal this week.

However, Michael Tran, managing director of energy strategy at RBC Capital Markets in New York, said: “Even if the outage normalises quickly, the threat of sidelining nearly 6% of global oil production is no longer a hypothetical, a black swan or a fat tail. Welcome back, risk premium.”

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What are the US accusations?

Mr Pompeo said Tehran was behind the damaging attacks but gave no specific evidence to back up his accusations.

He has rejected claims by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels that they carried out the attacks.

Iran accused the US of “deceit” and its Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said that “blaming Iran won’t end the disaster” in Yemen.

Yemen has been at war since 2015, when President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi was forced to flee the capital Sanaa by the Houthis. Saudi Arabia backs President Hadi, and has led a coalition of regional countries against the rebels.

The US meanwhile has blamed Iran for other attacks on oil supplies in the region this year, amid continuing tension following Mr Trump’s decision to reinstate sanctions after abandoning the landmark international deal which limited Tehran’s nuclear activities.

About one in 20 workers does not get paid holidays, while one in 10 does not get a payslip, according to a report by the Resolution Foundation think tank.

It found workers over the age of 65 are most likely to not have paid holidays, despite a legal entitlement to 28 days a year, or pro-rota for part-timers.

And workers aged 25 and under are twice as likely to be underpaid the minimum wage that any other age group.

The think tank says its findings reveal the extent of illegal labour practices.

Workers in hotels and restaurants miss out out more than others on legal workplace entitlements, the report says.

Meanwhile, those in small firms, employing fewer than 25, are most likely to not get payslips and paid leave, as are workers on zero-hours and temporary contracts, the Resolution Foundation said.

The analysis was published to mark the start of the organisation’s three-year investigation into the enforcement of labour market rules and regulations.

Lindsay Judge, senior economic analyst at the Resolution Foundation, said: “The UK has a multitude of rules to govern its labour market, from maximum hours to minimum pay, but these rules can only become a reality if they are properly enforced.

“Labour market violations remain far too common, with millions of workers missing out on basic entitlements to a payslip, holiday entitlement and the minimum wage.

“Our analysis suggests that, while violations take place across the labour market, the government should also prioritise investigations into sectors like hotels and restaurants, along with firms who make large use of atypical employment contracts, as that’s where abuse is most prevalent,” Ms Judge said.

Tribunal claims

She welcomed the government’s move to strengthen the resources and powers of bodies such as HM Revenue & Customs and the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Agency.

However, the UK still largely relies on individuals seeking redress through the Employment Tribunal (ET) system. And, she said, many of the individuals in most need of help to challenge illegal practices are those least likely to use ETs.

Young people are disproportionately subjected to unlawful working practises, but make fewer ET applications than any other age group.

In contrast, managerial staff are least likely to be subject to labour market abuse, but are among the most likely to be make tribunal claims.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said it is committed to enforcing workplace regulations and tackling firms that break the rules, and is consulting on bringing agencies together under its proposed Single Enforcement Body.

“We are extending state enforcement to cover holiday pay for vulnerable workers, as part of the largest upgrade to workers’ rights in a generation,” said a spokesman.

However, Shadow business minister Laura Pidcock said she recognised many people worked in illegal conditions, but insisted “the Tories are on the side of the few, not the many”.

“Behind these statistics are many hours of stressful and exhausting work, people’s home lives being made so much harder than they need to be, an unchecked class of bad bosses and legions of workers who feel like they have no choice but to accept illegal poor conditions,” she said.

Almost 50,000 General Motors workers have been called out on strike after America’s biggest carmaker failed to reach a pay and conditions deal with the United Auto Workers union (UAW).

“We do not take this lightly. This is our last resort,” UAW vice-president Terry Dittes told reporters in Detroit.

The sides had set a Saturday night deadline to reach agreement.

The strike – from midnight (04:00 GMT) on Monday – is the first major stoppage at GM since 2007.

In that strike, a two-day stoppage cost $300m (£240m).

The union’s previous four-year contract with GM expired this weekend, and the two sides had been holding negotiations on wide-ranging issues, including wages, healthcare, profit sharing, and job security.

Also, the union has been fighting to stop GM from closing car assembly plants in Ohio and Michigan, which the company has said are necessary responses to changes in the market. Earlier on Sunday 850 maintenance workers at five GM facilities walked off the job on strike.

Mr Dittes said: “We are standing up for fair wages, we are standing up for affordable, quality health care. We are standing up for our share of the profits.”

GM argues that its wages and benefits are among the best in the industry. The carmaker said in a statement that its offer to the UAW during talks included more than $7bn in new investments, more jobs, and pay and benefits increases. “We have negotiated in good faith and with a sense of urgency,” GM said.

It remains unclear if the two sides had plans for further negotiations.

The strike comes at a time when the US car industry is starting to see a slowdown in sales, and rising costs associated with investment in electric vehicles and curbing emissions.

Thomas Cook has said it is “focused on completing” a rescue deal amid reports that some lenders could vote against the terms of the agreement.

The troubled travel firm is understood to be in last minute negotiations with bondholders to approve a takeover by Chinese firm Fosun Tourism.

The deal needs the backing of three quarters of bondholders to succeed.

Thomas Cook wants to delay a meeting with them to give it more time to negotiate, the Financial Times said.

“We announced on 28 August that we have reached substantial agreement with Fosun and our creditors regarding key commercial terms of the recapitalisation of Thomas Cook.

“We remain focused on completing the transaction,” the travel firm said in a statement.

The aviation watchdog, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) refused to comment directly on Thomas Cook.

“We are in regular contact with all large ATOL holders and constantly monitor company performance. We do not comment on the financial situation of the individual businesses we regulate,” it said in a statement.

Profit problems

Thomas Cook first announced in June that it had received a takeover approach for its tour business from its largest shareholder Fosun. Last month, it said the deal had been agreed with Fosun and a majority of its bondholders.

The offer came amid fears over its financial strength. In May, the firm reported a £1.5bn loss for the first half of the year. It has also issued three profit warnings over the past year and is struggling to reduce its debts.

It has blamed a series of problems for its profit warnings, including political unrest in holiday destinations such as Turkey, last summer’s prolonged heatwave and customers delaying booking holidays due to Brexit. But it has also suffered from competition from online travel agents and low-cost airlines.


Should I be worried about my holiday?

Thomas Cook is an ATOL-protected business.

Protection under the ATOL – or Air Travel Organiser’s Licence – scheme means UK travellers on an air package holidays do not lose their money or become stranded abroad if a travel agent collapses.

It also covers many charter flights and means that, if the operator collapses while people are away, they can finish their holiday and be flown home at no extra cost.

If the business collapses before they go away, the scheme will provide a replacement holiday of equal value, or a refund.

When flights are booked on their own, or when people book flights and accommodation separately, the ATOL scheme does not usually come into effect. However, the ATOL scheme does now cover more custom-built holidays than it used to.

If a holiday is ATOL-protected it will be clearly marked with a certificate on holiday documents. The scheme is run by the UK Civil Aviation Authority and is backed by the UK government.


In the age of the selfie, smiles are paramount. Now American company SmileDirectClub has set out to profit.

SmileDirectClub sells mail-order teeth aligners – a type of clear, plastic braces that the firm has turned into an $8bn (£6.5bn) business.

The company, which debuted on the Nasdaq stock exchange this week, has served more than 700,000 people since its start in 2014.

Last year, revenue nearly tripled to $423m from about $146m in 2017.

The firm, which boasts partnerships with major chains such as CVS and Well Pharmacy, remains in expansion mode.

It opened its first offices in the UK this summer, following launches in Canada and Australia. More are in the works.

“This is a very large market that we’re going after,” SmileDirectClub chief financial officer Kyle Wailes told the BBC. “We’ve got many, many countries that are on the roadmap for next year and beyond.”

Regulatory risk

SmileDirectClub’s flotation this week raised about $1.3bn (£1bn) after its shares fetched $23-a-piece – above the original target. That deal valued the firm at more than $8bn.

But the price sank sharply as public trading began.

The company has yet to be profitable, recording a $74.8m loss last year.

It has also come under fire from the medical community, who say the lack of in-person oversight of orthodontic treatment violates local laws and puts users at risk, since moving teeth improperly can lead to changed bites, gum loss and other problems.

The American Association of Orthodontists has lodged complaints with dental boards and regulatory authorities in 36 states. The American Dental Association has also filed complaints with the Federal Trade Commission and Food and Drug Administration.

SmileDirectClub has vigorously defended its practices and said customers’ treatments are reviewed by licensed professionals. It also reserves the right to turn away people whose teeth might require more serious work.

But the debate about the company has spilled onto YouTube and social media sites, where scores of customers have posted positive and negative reviews.

Gus Burge, a 24-year-old in New York, signed up for the service this summer, and is in week three of his treatment. He said he was lured by the prospect of an affordable fix to the “snaggle teeth” that have bothered him since childhood.

Mr Burge said he had seen the warnings but was undeterred since he was only looking for a minor cosmetic fix.

“I just wanted to straighten it up a little bit,” he said. “It’s not like my teeth were crazy.”

How it works

Clear plastic braces have existed for years, but SmileDirectClub bypasses traditional dentists and orthodontists in a move it says makes its services more convenient and affordable.

Customers can create impressions of their mouths at home and mail them to the company or visit one of more than 300 SmileDirectClub stores to have their mouth “scanned”.

The firm then reviews the molds and sends kits with clear, plastic aligners – reviewed by a network of about 240 orthodontists and dentists – which must be worn 22 hours a day. The firm mails new aligners as the teeth shift to the desired position.

The treatment costs $1,895 as a bulk sum or $80 a month if paid by instalment.

“The disruption is the business model and really cutting out supervised dentistry from the mix,” says Chris Salierno, a dentist in New York who lectures on the industry’s economics.

‘Selfie phenomenon’

Analysts say the firm, which has recently expanded into other products, has benefited from growing demand for orthodontia, as people put a premium on securing the white, toothy smiles that play well on social media.

And though it might seem like Americans are particularly obsessed with their teeth, it’s unlikely they’re the only ones.

“We think a lot of it is driven by the selfie phenomenon,” says Justin Ishbia, managing partner at Shore Capital Partners, a Chicago-based private equity firm that specialises in health care investments. “This is a trend that is not going away.”

SmileDirectClub’s Mr Wailes dismissed the criticism as gripes by a status quo under threat, saying the firm’s massive, growing customer base “speaks for itself”.

He said investors should be optimistic about the firm’s long-term prospects: “At the end of day people care about their smile, right?”

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Saudi Arabia has cut oil and gas production following drone attacks on two major oil facilities run by state-owned company Aramco.

Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said the strikes had reduced crude oil production by 5.7m barrels a day – about half the kingdom’s output.

A Yemeni Houthi rebel spokesman said it had deployed 10 drones in the attacks.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed the attacks on Iran saying there was no evidence they came from Yemen.

The Saudis lead a Western-backed military coalition supporting Yemen’s government, while Iran backs the Houthi rebels.

In a statement carried by the Saudi Press Agency (SPA), Prince Abdulaziz said the attacks “resulted in a temporary suspension of production at Abqaiq and Khurais plants”.

He said that part of the reduction would be compensated for by drawing on Aramco’s oil stocks.

The situation was under control at both facilities, Aramco CEO Amin Nasser said, adding that no casualties had been reported in the attacks.

In a tweet, Mike Pompeo described the attack as “an unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply”.

“We call on all nations to publicly and unequivocally condemn Iran’s attacks,” Mr Pompeo added.

The US would work with its allies to ensure energy markets remain well supplied and “Iran is held accountable for its aggression”, he added.

Tensions between the US and Iran have escalated since Mr Trump abandoned a deal limiting Iran’s nuclear activities last year and reinstated sanctions.

The Houthi spokesman, Yahya Sarea, told al-Masirah TV, which is owned by the Houthi movement and is based in Beirut, that further attacks could be expected in the future.

He said Saturday’s attack was one of the biggest operations the Houthi forces had undertaken inside Saudi Arabia and was carried out in “co-operation with the honourable people inside the kingdom”.

TV footage showed a huge blaze at Abqaiq, site of Aramco’s largest oil processing plant, while a second drone attack started fires in the Khurais oilfield.

“At 04:00 (01:00 GMT), the industrial security teams of Aramco started dealing with fires at two of its facilities in Abqaiq and Khurais as a result of… drones,” the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.

“The two fires have been controlled.”

Later, the SPA reported that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had told US President Donald Trump in a telephone conversation that the kingdom was “willing and able to confront and deal with this terrorist aggression”.

The White House said Mr Trump had offered US support to help Saudi Arabia defend itself.

United Nations envoy Martin Griffiths described the attacks as “extremely worrying” in a statement in which he called on all parties in the Yemen conflict to exercise restraint.+

Abqaiq is about 60km (37 miles) south-west of Dhahran in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, while Khurais, some 200km further south-west, has the country’s second largest oilfield.

Saudi security forces foiled an attempt by al-Qaeda to attack the Abqaiq facility with suicide bombers in 2006.


Production cut could hit world prices

Analysis by BBC business correspondent Katie Prescott

Aramco is not only the world’s biggest oil producer, it is also one of the world’s most profitable businesses.

The Khurais oilfield produces about 1% of the world’s oil, and Abqaiq is the company’s largest facility – with the capacity to process 7% of the global supply. Even a brief or partial disruption could affect the company, and the oil supply, given their size.

There was a sharp intake of breath as analysts I spoke to today digested the information that reports suggest that half of Saudi Arabia’s oil production could have been knocked offline by these attacks.

The country produces 10% of the world’s crude oil. Cutting this in half could have a significant effect on the oil price come Monday when markets open.

The success of the drone strike shows the vulnerability of Aramco’s infrastructure, at a time when it is trying to show itself in its best light while gearing up to float on the stock market.

And it raises concerns that escalating tensions in the region could pose a broader risk to oil, potentially threatening the fifth of the world’s supply that goes through the critical Strait of Hormuz.


An attack method open to all

This latest attack underlines the strategic threat posed by the Houthis to Saudi Arabia’s oil installations.

The growing sophistication of the Houthis’ drone operations is bound to renew the debate as to where this capability comes from. Have the Houthis simply weaponised commercial civilian drones or have they had significant assistance from Iran?

The Trump administration is likely to point the finger squarely at Tehran, but experts vary in the extent to which they think Iran is facilitating the drone campaign.

The Saudi air force has been pummelling targets in Yemen for years. Now the Houthis have a capable, if much more limited, ability to strike back. It shows that the era of armed drone operations being restricted to a handful of major nations is now over.

Drone technology, albeit of varying degrees of sophistication, is available to all – from the US to China, Israel and Iran – and from the Houthis to Hezbollah.


Who are the Houthis?

The Iran-aligned Houthi rebel movement has been fighting the Yemeni government and a Saudi-led coalition.

Yemen has been at war since 2015, when President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi was forced to flee the capital Sanaa by the Houthis. Saudi Arabia backs President Hadi, and has led a coalition of regional countries against the rebels.

The coalition launches air strikes almost every day, while the Houthis often fire missiles into Saudi Arabia.

Mr Sarea, the Houthi group’s military spokesman, told al-Masirah that operations against Saudi targets would “only grow wider and will be more painful than before, so long as their aggression and blockade continues”.

Houthi fighters were blamed for drone attacks on the Shaybah natural gas liquefaction facility last month, and on other oil facilities in May.

There have been other sources of tension in the region, often stemming from the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Saudi Arabia and the US both blamed Iran for attacks in the Gulf on two oil tankers in June and July, allegations Tehran denied.

In May four tankers, two of them Saudi-flagged, were damaged by explosions within the UAE’s territorial waters in the Gulf of Oman.

Tension in the vital shipping lanes worsened when Iran shot down a US surveillance drone over the Strait of Hormuz in June, leading a month later to the Pentagon announcing the deployment of US troops to Saudi Arabia.

Historic English shopping centres will benefit from a £95m regeneration fund, the government has said.

In all, 69 towns and cities will receive money, with projects aimed at turning disused buildings into shops, houses and community centres.

The largest share of money, £21.1m, will go to the Midlands, with £2m going to restore buildings in Coventry that survived World War Two bombing.

The government said the move would “breathe new life” into High Streets.

The government’s Future High Street Fund is providing £52m of the money, while £40m will come from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). A further £3m is being provided by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Towns and cities had to bid for the £95m funding, which was first announced in May.

The announcement comes after figures showed that about 16 shops a day closed in the first half of the year as retailers restructure their businesses and more shopping moves online.

Lisa Hooker, consumer markets leader at PwC which was behind the research, said retailers had to invest more in making stores “relevant to today’s consumers”, but added that “new and different types of operators” needed encouragement to fill vacant space.

‘Wider regeneration’

The government said the money would “support wider regeneration” in the 69 successful areas by attracting future commercial investment.

“Our nation’s heritage is one of our great calling cards to the world, attracting millions of visitors to beautiful historic buildings that sit at the heart of our communities,” said Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan.

“It is right that we ensure these buildings are preserved for future generations but it is important that we make them work for the modern world.”

Other major projects include a £2m drive to restore historic shop-fronts in London’s Tottenham area, which suffered extensive damage in the 2011 riots.

By region, the funding breaks down as follows:

  • London and the South East: £14.3m
  • South West: £13.7m
  • Midlands: £21.1m
  • North East and Yorkshire: £17.2m
  • North West: £18.7m

You can read a full list of the towns and cities that will benefit here.

“Increasing competition from online outlets is putting High Streets across the country under growing pressure,” said the DCMS.

“As part of the government’s drive to help High Streets adapt to changing consumer habits, the £95m funding will provide a welcome boost.”

Responding to the move, shadow culture secretary Tom Watson said High Streets had been “decimated” by “a decade of Tory austerity”.

He added: “This funding pales in comparison to the £1bn Cultural Capital fund that Labour is committed to, which will boost investment in culture, arts and heritage right across the country, not just a few lucky areas.”

One of the most hotly anticipated stock market listings of the year – the flotation of office property rental firm WeWork – is now in doubt.

The uncertainty comes after the firm was reported to be facing pressure from its biggest external investor, Japanese firm SoftBank, to drop its flotation plans amid concerns about its plunging valuation.

The company was valued at $47bn (£38bn) last year, but reports have suggested it is now considering a price tag of less than $20bn.

Other high-profile and heavily loss-making companies – such as ride-hailing apps Lyft and Uber and messaging app Slack – have struggled to maintain their initial valuations.

The firms were part of a pack of much-touted “unicorns” – privately held start-ups valued at more than $1bn.

The trio launched their Initial Public Offerings (IPOs) this year in a blaze of glory. But while Slack is still trading near to the price it listed on the stock market, both Uber and Lyft are trading much lower.

Backed by venture capital firms and allowed to grow while enduring big losses, the firms have faced more scepticism since listing their shares.

So is the flotation bubble about to burst?

There are worries over prospects for global economic growth, given factors such as the US-China trade war and the uncertainty surrounding Brexit.

Some argue that in tighter economic circumstances, companies and consumers are likely to cut back their spending on things such as cab rides and workplace apps – not to mention spending on desk space hire.

Tech analyst Richard Kramer, founder of Arete Research, said: “They are obviously very different businesses, but the connecting thread is that they are losing money, burning cash and rely on sustaining very high growth rates over time.

“If there is anything that changed in the mood music, it is that multiple segments of the market are increasingly pricing in a recession.

“At the same time, these new IPOs [Initial Public Offerings] are reliant on continuous sales growth just to turn a first profit.”

He said Uber and Lyft were used on average some 30 times a year per person, which was not enough for the firms to make a profit.

“These companies are losing money right now,” Mr Kramer said.

“Getting to scale – meaning 50 to 100 rides per active user per year – requires a far larger share of what are discretionary consumer purchases. Uber and Lyft need customers to use them more and more, but in a tighter economy, this growth may be harder to come by.”

He added that the question that markets were now asking was: are these companies “recession-proof”?


What is WeWork?

Led by the charismatic Adam Neumann, WeWork offers serviced office space, often to small, start-up ventures. Critics say it must fulfil long-term contracts with landlords while using short-term contracts with its customers, making it vulnerable to downturns, should its custom dry up.

The company has lost more than $4bn since 2016, burning through capital even as its revenues have doubled each year. WeWork said in its IPO filing that it could slow its expansion dramatically if it needed to become profitable.

In 2018, WeWork lost $1.9bn on revenue of $1.8bn. It lost an additional $904m on revenues of $1.54bn in the first half of 2019.

So far, it has not made a profit, but since starting in 2010 it has grown rapidly, spreading to 528 locations in 111 cities in 29 countries.


‘Longer path to profitability’

Turning to Slack, he said the workplace communication app was in the unenviable position of competing with an offer from Microsoft.

“If you are buying Microsoft software for your business, you are already getting Teams built in,” Mr Kramer said.

Microsoft Teams is a unified communications platform combining workplace chat, video meetings, file storage and application integration.

Teams may not yet have all the features that Slack offers, but “buying Slack becomes an optional extra purchase”, he added.

Slack is also appealing more to “start-ups that want to use new tools”.

Mr Kramer concluded: “If you look at the forecasts for all these early-stage growth companies that IPO, they assume continuous growth, but the market is now pricing in a lower likelihood of uninterrupted growth, and therefore a much longer path to profitability than hopeful backers originally envisaged.”

Dave Edwards says his son was born screaming and didn’t stop for 12 months.

It was a tough introduction to parenting for the 33-year-old who spent those early days at home on paternity leave. Severely sleep deprived, he returned to his job in human resources five weeks after the birth.

“I was in a fairly frequent state of worry, worry about my partner at home with a screaming baby. I had a job to do that was quite stressful,” the Brisbane, Australia-based father says.

A few months later he felt the full grip of anxiety and depression take hold.

Mr Edwards later discovered he was one of the numerous men who suffer from mental illness that arises after the birth of a child.

Advocacy group Postpartum Support International says in the US, one in seven mothers, and one in 10 fathers, will experience postpartum (after birth) depression. The group says those rates are broadly reflected across the developed world.

In the UK, research by parenting group the NCT found that more than a third of new dads were worried about their mental health, citing factors including added financial responsibility and lack of sleep.

For Mr Edwards, his struggle was made more difficult by responsibilities at work.

He remembers staring at the computer screen, feeling constantly agitated and struggling to concentrate.

“I was expected to just get back on the horse and fulfil my pre-dad life at work,” the father of two says.

It’s a story familiar to many women. Mothers remain the dominant caregivers and have long wrestled with how to balance careers and family.

But many fathers are showing signs of strain in the workplace as obligations outside their jobs grow.

‘Anxiety is rising’

Amy Beacom, founder of the Centre for Parental Leave Leadership, works with companies like Microsoft and energy firm Phillips 66 to provide coaching and training tied to parental leave.

She says the pressures commonly felt by mothers are increasingly weighing on fathers who no longer just need to “bring home the pay cheque”.

“Now they are expected to be at home too and their stress levels are rising, their postpartum depression levels are rising, and their anxiety is rising. That has very real effects in the workplace,” Ms Beacom says.

Her US-based organisation wants companies to conduct mental health screening during the perinatal period, which runs from pregnancy to one year after birth, for mothers and fathers.

“We’re doing it for the mums and we’re pushing it for the dads,” she says.

Shifting landscape

Those kinds of screenings may be some way off but companies are taking other steps to support dads at work.

“Men are more involved in their kids’ lives more than ever before. But what hasn’t changed is the number of hours that men are working,” says Kiri Stejko, chief services officer at Parents at Work.

The consultancy provides workplace training to clients in Australia, the UK and Hong Kong to help parents juggle career, family and wellbeing.

She works with firms including Deloitte and HSBC, and says employers want to make the issue not just about women and babies, but about families and parents.

At a practical level, that means extending programmes previously targeted towards women, like leave to care for a new baby or flexible work arrangements.

Many men want to work more flexibly, Ms Stejko says, but find it is “not really accepted yet”.

Some men feel there’s a stigma tied to pulling back from work and asking for help can seem too risky to their career.

It’s a concern observed by father of five Alex Laguna, who set up the website BetterDads. Initially a platform to support men going through divorce, the site now also touches on wider issues of work and family.

Mr Laguna says men often struggle to step away from their jobs, hung up on worries over how it will look to “other men we work with”.

“It’s really very nerve-wracking to say no to work,” the Sydney dad says.

The 44-year-old, who also runs a lighting company, says his generation hasn’t had many role models on how to balance family and work in the way that is now expected.

“We’re the first to go through it, we’re faced with a lot of challenges.”

Starting conversations

Experts welcome efforts by companies to support working dads while calling for more to be done to build awareness.

Terri Smith, chief executive of not-for-profit group Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia, says many people aren’t aware that perinatal mental illness affects men – and therefore can’t offer support.

She says the first step is recognising it is “a real illness” and starting discussions about it in the workplace.

Mark Williams from Bridgend in Wales suffered from depression after the traumatic birth of his son, and found returning to work as a sales and marketing trainer so difficult that he had to resign. He founded the charity Fathers Reaching Out and campaigns to raise awareness in the UK.

“It is not just depression, men could be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, or anxiety,” he says. “You may already be mentally suffering at home, and all of a sudden, bang, two weeks after the birth, it is time to go back to work.”

He says managers and health professionals need to ask new fathers how they are feeling and be prepared to provide support.

Mr Edwards agrees, and thinks he would have benefited from his boss simply checking in on him after he returned to work.

“I would get a lot of how’s everything going at home, how’s your partner going? But nothing about me,” he says.

The public sector worker says he’s in a much better place now and wants to help others.

“Showing the new dad that looking after themselves is really important, because how I felt through those dark few months… it wasn’t pleasant and I know it had an impact on my work as well.”

Customers of a High Street pawnbroker are being left in the dark after branches were closed and calls unanswered.

A&B Pawnbrokers (Albemarle & Bond) and Herbert Brown stores have closed their doors, while its website says “this store” has ceased trading.

Owner Speedloan Finance told the BBC all its 116 stores had been closed because of “significant losses”.

The firm said it was “exploring options available to it”.

These included finding a buyer for some or all of the stores, it said.

“Speedloan is due to enter into a period of consultation with employees concerning its proposal and has in the meantime offered its employees voluntary redundancy,” it added.

The pawnbrokers’ trade body hit out at the firm’s unanswered helpline.

“Their decision to downscale UK operations is a strategic matter for the company but [we have] expressed concern that the communication of their actions to their customers falls below the standards expected of its members,” the National Pawnbrokers Association (NPA) said.

“In particular, we are most unhappy with the fact that customers cannot get through to the helpline. We have demanded that the management of the company resolve this as a matter of urgency.”


Analysis

Katie Prescott, business reporter

Industry insiders are shocked at the way Albemarle & Bond has handled its abrupt closure.

Many say that moving the pledges (the goods secured against the loan) to a central location is unfair, as most of their customers like to deal with things in their local branch.

One said that many of these clients don’t have easy access to standard forms of credit, explaining that one option offered by A&B, to pay their loan online using a debit card, was often not appropriate, although they can also use cash in a NatWest branch.

The main concern now is what happens to those customers.

The BBC understands from a source close to one of the UK’s biggest pawnbroker chains, Harvey & Thompson, that they are talking to A&B about the situation and are making every effort to offer their support and help for customers and staff. However, what that support looks like is yet unclear.

It’s a sentiment echoed by the National Pawnbrokers Association.

Albemarle & Bond has a chequered history. Business boomed in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, but it fell victim to a plunging gold price.

In 2013, it announced it was melting down gold in order to pay its debts. A few months later, it fell into administration.

It changed hands twice, to be bought in 2015 by the Japanese pawnbroking company Daikokuya Holdings. In 2016, it was given a £10m cash injection from the investment firm Gordon Brothers.

Four years on and it is once again on the market. Its latest set of accounts show that it lost £3.3m last year – as against £1.6m the year before.


Apology

Pawnbrokers allow customers to offer something valuable as security for a loan, or buy items such as jewellery and antiques. They lend money quickly, but usually at a worse rate than banks.

Stores also often offer other financial services such as currency exchange and buying gold.

The company said that any items pawned in A&B stores will be transferred to a central store, and can be redeemed or sold through this operation.

“If your items are expired or due to expire, please note we will not take any action with your items until we speak to you,” the website said.

“Unfortunately, we were unable to contact all customers prior to the closure date. We apologise for any inconvenience this has caused.”

Letters have been sent by Albemarle & Bond, which was established in 1840, to customers as stores closed.

Helplines

The regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), said it was aware that companies operated by Speedloan had closed stores.

“We are engaging with the firm and asking them to ensure this process is carried out in an orderly manner and to minimise disruption to Speedloan’s customers,” the FCA said.

Speedloan said it was keeping the FCA informed.

The Financial Ombudsman Service said it had received calls from frustrated customers unable to get through to the company and were worried about their items.

Customers can contact the company on 01865 798114, which is a dedicated hotline, or by email at info@albemarlebond.com.

If customers are not happy with the response from the company, they can contact the Financial Ombudsman Service to complain on 0800 023 4567, or the FCA customer helpline on 0800 111 6768.


How does pawnbroking work?

  • Customer “pledges” an item, such as a gold ring for a set period of time, usually six months
  • Pawnbroker gives 50% to 60% of the item’s value as a cash loan
  • Customer pays 7% to 8% interest every month
  • An item can be redeemed during the loan period by paying back the original loan and any interest up to that point
  • If the customer cannot repay the loan at the end of the deal the pawnbroker sells the item and returns any surplus to the customer

More information is available from the National Pawnbrokers Association. Consumer advice on pawnbroking is available from Citizens Advice and the Money and Pensions Service


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