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6 Apr, 2022 15:39

Ukraine not only factor in higher UK food prices - report

New report suggests Brexit and Covid have led to over 500,000 job vacancies in UK farming sector as of August
Ukraine not only factor in higher UK food prices - report

Chronic labor shortages in the food and farming sectors could lead to even higher food prices, a group of British MPs warned in a report published on Wednesday, urging the government to learn its lessons from, what they called, the failed immigration policies introduced last year and to take immediate action.

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs committee report, penned by a joint group of Tory and Labour MPs, claims that as of August 2021 the industry had “potentially in excess of 500,000 job vacancies” out of 4.1 million roles in the sector, arguing that the shortage had been “caused by Brexit and accentuated by the [Covid-19] pandemic.”

The report found “clear evidence” that the worker shortages were having a severe effect on the food and farming industry, “threatening food security, the welfare of animals and the mental health of those working in the sector,” adding that businesses have been “badly hit” by these issues, and that the pig sector was being particularly affected, as some 35,000 pigs had been recently culled due to a lack of workers.

“We found that labour shortages across the sector were causing crops to go unharvested and left to rot in fields, healthy pigs to be culled, and disruption to the food supply chain’s just-in-time delivery model,” the report states.

The MPs warn that the UK’s food sector – its largest manufacturing sector – could face permanent shrinkage unless labour shortages are addressed, arguing that if action is not taken immediately, the industry could see wage rises, price increases, reduced competitiveness and food production being exported abroad as the country becomes more reliant on imports.

The group insists that the government “must learn the lessons” from how it introduced temporary short-term visa schemes in autumn 2021, which were issued too late and didn’t allow the sector to take advantage of the visas.

They also called on ministers to review the Skilled Worker Visa scheme, which they claim has many aspects that act as barriers, including the complicated and expensive visa application process as well as the strict English-language requirement – which the MPs feel should be lowered to a “basic user” level. 

Also, the group asks that the government expand the Seasonal Workers Pilot scheme – which allows foreign workers to come to the UK to work on farms for up to six months within one year, – and increase the number of such visas available by 10,000 this year and make the scheme permanent as well as make a commitment to announce visa numbers in the future.

The report comes as the UK is already experiencing rampant inflation, as the cost of living soars, in March for a reported 83% of the adult population. The Bank of England has warned that inflation, which was already at a three-decade high of 5.5% in January, could skyrocket to 8% or even higher in the coming months, as food and energy prices continue rising due to supply-chain challenges amid the ongoing military conflict in Ukraine.