A survey by the Association of Labour Providers (ALP) shows that around half of UK growers and food manufacturers have reduced output of rationalised their business due to a shortage of labour.
The May 2022 Food Labour Market Survey found that 49% of growers and food manufacturers have reduced output due to a lack of workers, and more than three quarters (77%) of businesses are experiencing shortages of lower and unskilled workers. 45% of businesses stated that these labour shortages are chronic.
ALP chief executive, David Camp said it was time for the government to fix ‘the biggest issue’ affecting UK food production. “The UK food and farming workforce keeps our nation fed,” he said. “Hailed as ‘Britain’s Food Heroes’ during the pandemic, this workforce is often taken for granted; that is until supermarket shelves run empty.”
Defra farming minister Victoria Prentis recently said, “We have ambitions in Defra to increase food production — particularly in areas such as fruit and veg, where we traditionally have low levels.”
However, Mr Camp said policies on labour would simply not allow this to happen. “Whilst we welcome the ambition of the minister, with 1.26m people unemployed and 1.3m job vacancies, there are simply not enough workers for essential sectors like ours,” he commented.
The British Retail Consortium also warned that if labour shortages were not resolved soon “we will start to see production being lost from the UK and being offshored, and then imported back into the UK.” It added that labour shortages “threaten to shrink the sector permanently with a chain reaction of wage rises and price increases reducing competitiveness, leading to food production being exported abroad and increased imports.”
The ALP is calling for a number of measures, including a national plan to attract domestic workers to the UK food industry, and extension of the seasonal workers route, and the immediate release of this season’s 10,000 agreed seasonal worker visas.