Labour shortages in the food and farming sector – Report Summary

This is a House of Commons Committee report, with recommendations to government. The Government has two months to respond.

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The food and farming sector has been suffering from acute labour shortages due principally to Brexit and the covid-19 pandemic. In August 2021, the number of vacancies was estimated to be 500,000 out of 4.1 million roles in the sector. We found clear evidence that labour shortages have badly affected the food and farming industry - threatening food security, the welfare of animals and the mental health of those working in the sector. Businesses have been badly hit, with the pig sector being particularly affected. The food sector is the UK’s largest manufacturing sector but faces permanent shrinkage if a failure to address its acute labour shortages leads to wage rises, price increases, reduced competitiveness and, ultimately, food production being exported abroad and increased imports.

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. Our key recommendations are:

  • The Government must learn the lessons from the way it introduced the temporary short-term visa schemes of autumn 2021, as their late announcement limited the sector’s ability to take advantage of the visas being made available.
  • The Government needs to make a step change in how it engages with industry, taking seriously the concerns they raise and acting promptly on them—this should help prevent any future intervention being “too little, too late”.
  • The Government must review aspects of the Skilled Worker Visa scheme that act as barriers, including the English language requirement and the complexity and costs involved in a visa application.
  • The Government needs to build on its welcome expansion of the Seasonal Workers Pilot scheme to the ornamentals sector and: increase the number of visas available by 10,000 this year; make the scheme permanent; and commit to announcing visa numbers in future on a rolling five-year basis.
  • The Government must work with industry both to tackle the immediate labour shortage facing the sector and to develop a long-term labour strategy that combines the development and deployment of new technology with attractive education and vocational training packages to entice British-based workers, so reducing the sector’s dependence on overseas labour.