UK retail sales fell 2.1% in May, reflecting the true picture of the “tough” trading conditions on the high street, according to new figures from the British Retail Consortium (BRC). Sales by value fell 2.1% lower on a like-for-like basis from May 2010, when sales had risen 0.8%. Sales by volume were down 0.3%, against a 3.0% increase in May 2010. Food sales slowed markedly after April’s strong growth and non-food sales were also much weaker. As the weather cooled, consumers’ underlying uncertainty about jobs and incomes resurfaced, hitting clothing, footwear and homewares. Non-food non-store (internet, mail-order and phone) sales growth slowed in May, but the comparison was with a very strong May 2010. Sales were 10.4% higher than a year ago, compared with 13.7% in April but over 20% in May 2010. Like-for-like sales across the three month period of March, April and May increased 1.3%. Stephen Robertson, director general of the British Retail Consortium, said: “After two previous months distorted by the later Easter and extra bank holiday, this is a more realistic reflection of how tough conditions on the high street really are. “The first half of May was better than the second, when the weather turned unseasonably wet and cold in many parts of the country, but customers’ fundamental reluctance to spend is now clear to see. Households’ disposable incomes continue to be squeezed by uncomfortably high inflation and low wage growth, while uncertainty over the effects of Government cuts is hitting consumers’ sentiment about future finances. “The VAT rise since last year is flattering the sales figures for most non-food goods, while renewed weakness in the housing market made life particularly difficult for retailers selling furniture and household goods. “This new evidence of weak spending shows how important it is to support this soft patch in the recovery by keeping interest rates low."