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Government failure to tackle labour shortages will shrink food sector permanently, warn MPs

6 April 2022

There can be no doubt about the seriousness of the issues facing the food and farming sector caused by labour shortages, warns the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee today.

In a new report, Labour shortages in the food and farming sector, MPs conclude that UK’s largest manufacturing sector faces permanent damage if the Government fails to address the lack of workers due mainly to covid-19 and Brexit.

Despite the sector flagging significant concern, the shortage of labour in 2021 took a toll on food security, the welfare of animals and the mental health of those who work in the industry, MPs report.

The pig sector was particularly badly affected, with 35,000 pigs being culled due to a lack of butchers to process them. The Report calls on the Secretary of State to use the Department’s power to provide direct support to pig farmers.

The Committee was frustrated by the reluctance of Government to engage with the industry over labour shortages. Despite valiant attempts by the industry, Ministers failed to understand the issues and even sought to pass the blame onto the sector. Today’s report urges Government to have a radical rethink to prevent future interventions coming too late.

Revised immigration measures could address the current crisis. For example, the Report calls for a review of the Skilled Workers Visa scheme including the complexity and costs faced by employers and tailoring the English language requirement to meet the needs of the sector.

While there have been welcome changes to the Seasonal Worker Pilot, the inclusion of the ornamental sector necessitates the Government to make available the extra 10,000 visas ear-marked and for the scheme to be made permanent.

However, a reliance on overseas labour must be reduced in preference for a long-term labour strategy that grows and develops home-grown talent, combining attractive education and vocational training packages with the deployment of new technology.

While the Committee welcomes some of the Government’s work in the area, it warns that without fundamental change, the UK is facing a chain reaction of wage rises, leading to price increases and food production being exported abroad.

Chair's comments

The Chair of the EFRA Committee, Neil Parish MP, said:

“In 2021 farmers faced an extraordinary situation – crops were left to rot in the fields and healthy pigs were culled due to a lack of workers. This has serious implications for the well-being of the people who put food on our tables today and in the future. The Government’s attitude to the plight of food and farming workers was particularly disappointing.

“While some of the reforms put forward by Government have helped in the short term, and we agreed that we must look to expand the domestic workforce – this won’t happen overnight. In the meantime, it must use the powers available – including over immigration policy - to support the sector. Otherwise we will export our food production and import more of our food.

“Even more importantly, Government must change its attitude to the food and farming sector – trusting them and acting promptly when they raise concerns. Our food and farmers depend on it.”

Further information

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