Why do supermarkets close early on Sundays?

Given that shift-patterns and standard working weeks in Britain have changed beyond all recognition in the past twenty years, it is fair to say that many people no longer have the standard working week. It used to be that the vast majority of people would have Monday to Friday for work, with the occasional half-day on a Wednesdays afternoon while Saturday and Sunday would be days off. A Saturday would be the traditional day for shopping and other activities while Sunday would be a day of rest, contemplation or religion for many people. You can go back further and find other examples but for the modern commercial era, this is the template that most people will be familiar with.

This has all changed in recent times, certainly in the past 20 years. There are some people that are outraged about the way that Sunday has become close to be a day of the week like any other but conversely, there are people that are frustrated by the limitations placed on shops on a Sunday. For many people, Sunday is the only day of the week when they do not have work or other limitations placed upon them and you can see why they would carry some frustrations about having their shopping time limited.

A lot of the problems regarding Sunday shopping can be found in the rules and legislation. Up until 1994, Sunday trading was not really allowed in England and Wales. Scotland had slightly different laws and Northern Ireland, where the will of the church is more powerful than in any of the other nations, had even stricter controls. Up until 1994, small shops had the ability to open and there was special dispensation given to garden centres. However, on the whole, department stores and supermarkets were not able to open. Some did and risked the wrath of the local authorities who had the power to impose fines but with many firms deciding that the fines were smaller than the profits they obtained on a Sunday, some firms opened up anyway. In 1994, the law for Sunday opening changed

However, the change in 1994 altered this. The Conservative government tried to introduce this change back in 1986 but was defeated in Parliament. Ironically enough, the party was defeated thanks to opposition from many of their own members, fearing that Sunday opening hours would further devalue family life and lead to fewer people maintaining a spiritual influence on their life.

The change in legislation regarding Sunday opening hours meant that shops could open for 6 hours between 10am and 6pm. Shops who have a dimension of less than 280 sq metres have the ability to set their own opening hours. This obviously doesn't apply to the larger department stores and supermarkets. Even the companies who may have previously been disregarding the laws regarding Sunday opening hours were happy enough to acquiesce with the new legislation, creating the current situation for limited shopping hours on a Sunday.

Back in 2006, the government looked into relaxing Sunday opening hours even further but concluded that there was no desire for this to be changed. This doesn't quite fit with the overall level of public demand for greater variety in opening hours on a Sunday. There is no doubt that closing earlier on a Sunday provides staff with guaranteed time away from work and it can be of benefit to employees who are looking to ensure their family are set up for the week ahead. However, there is a 24 hour culture growing in Britain and many will argue that long opening hours can provide more employment opportunities. It is likely that there will be opposition and protests against the limited Sunday opening hours until Sunday is considered a day like any other in the retail market. For some, this will be disappointing but for many, it will be a step in the right direction.