Food sector to ‘permanently shrink’ amid shortages, warn MPs

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Ministers’ failure to alleviate labour shortages due to post-Brexit policy and the pandemic will “permanently” shrink the UK’s food sector and increase prices, MPs have warned.

The warnings came part of a report by the Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, highlighting the crisis of crops being left to rot and healthy pigs being culled to manage numbers on farms.

Shortages have also caused disruption in the food supply chain and have threatened the UK’s food security.

READ MORE: Firms hit by new Brexit import rules, FSB warns

According to industry officials, vacancies in the sector were around 500,000 out of 4.1 million roles in August 2021 – amounting to an eighth of all roles.

The report cited the workforce shortage as the “single biggest factor affecting the sector”, and warned if it wasn’t adequately addressed it could lead to wage rises, price increases, reduced competitiveness and food production being exported abroad.

Earlier this year, farmers warned DEFRA of the severity of the pig-cull crisis with 40 independent farms leaving the sector as a result.

Central to the issue is the limited number season worker permits the government has allowed after Brexit.

Currently, only 30,000 were granted despite calls across the sector to increase the number.

Additionally, Brexit has restricted the number of EU temporary workers permitted to travel to the UK on the seasonal worker scheme – worsening labour shortages.

“The government has not demonstrated a strong understanding of these issues, and even on occasion sought to pass the blame on to the sector on the basis of incorrect information about its own immigration system,” the report wrote.

“The government must radically shift its attitude and work together with the sector to devise solutions that speedily help address the problems it faces, in the short, medium and long term to help the UK’s food industry and enable it to thrive.”

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