Jobs in the retail sector could fall to their lowest level in five years as the cost of the national living wage (NLW) starts to take its toll on retailers.

A third of retail employers want to limit the number of staff they take on in order to mitigate the cost of the government’s NLW, which was introduced earlier this year.

The cost of paying employees aged over 25 the stipulated £7.20 is deterring bosses from advertising new jobs as wages eat further into profits and cut dividend payouts, according to research by recruitment firm Manpower.

Manpower spokesman James Hick said the NLW has prompted retailers to register the biggest fall in optimism about their hiring intentions since 2011.

In its survey of 2,100 employers, Manpower found that uncertainty surrounding the EU referendum is also deterring employers from advertising new jobs.

Hick said: “Britain added 404,000 jobs in the last 12 months alone and, despite the uncertainties of Brexit, employers tell us they still need more workers.

“Make no mistake about the vital contribution EU workers make to Britain. There are currently 2.2 million people from the EU working in the UK, but not all of them will stay here in the long term and we need the opportunity to replace the skills they bring.”

Employers in the West Midlands and Wales were most positive about taking on new staff, while those in Yorkshire and Humberside were the least positive, the Guardian reports.