Many are warning that the food shortage in the UK might become permanent. So, how did the country get here?
A couple of days back, Ian Wright, outgoing chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation, warned that supply issues have hit supermarkets, and high street favourites are “going to get worse” with a shortage of half a million food and drink workers. Wright added, as mentioned by London Evening Standard, “It’s going to get worse — and it’s not going to get better after getting worse any time soon.” Wright also said that companies now have to prioritise which products to supply because of shortages in the labour force. However, Wright also said that “these shortages don’t mean you’re going to run out of food”.
Even if the UK isn’t going to run out of food, these comments are concerning. However, a spokesperson for the Prime Minister said, as mentioned by London Evening Standard, “We don’t recognise those claims.” The spokesperson added, “We have got highly resilient food supply chains which have coped extremely well in the face of challenges, and we believe that will remain the case.”
Is There A Food Shortage?
The UK government is confident that there is no food shortage, but what does everyone else say? The boss of the Co-operative Group, which owns the Co-op retail chain, told a newspaper, as mentioned by Sky News, the current food shortages hitting the country were the worst he had ever seen. In late July, Arla, the country’s biggest dairy supplier stated that up to a quarter of supermarket milk deliveries were unable to get through due to a shortage of lorry drivers.
On 11th August, KFC tweeted that there has been some disruption over the last few weeks. Nando’s was forced to temporarily close around 50 restaurants after suffering chicken shortages on August 16. On August 24, McDonald’s was forced to pull milkshakes, and bottled drinks from its menu because of supply chain issues.
Greggs, the bakery giant, said that some products containing chicken were missing from its shelves on August 25. On the same day, Subway said that it was facing “minor supply chain shortages” which were affecting fresh produce. On 25 August, Tesco, a multinational grocery, and general merchandise retailer, said that “there may be some shortages” but urged people not to panic buy. And the list goes on. Several companies — from supermarket chains to brewers, have been struggling with shortage.
Why Did This Happen?
This summer, the UK economy has been affected by various factors including labour shortages, new immigration rules, and the lingering effects of the coronavirus pandemic. There is estimated to be a shortfall of around 100,000 lorry drivers, triggered by the departure of foreign nationals during the pandemic, post-Brexit immigration rules, and self-isolation requirements.
14,000 EU drivers have left the country, and only 600 have returned since Brexit. The pandemic has also affected training, and tests for new drivers, as around 40,000 HGV (Heavy Goods Vehicle) driving tests were cancelled in 2020.
Meanwhile, some say that Brexit is just one of the reasons, and the logistics sector had problems even before Brexit. Mark Hughes, who has been driving HGVs for 20 years, told The Guardian that his pay has barely changed in his working life, with retention bonuses only emerging in the last few months as companies have attempted belatedly to hang on to their drivers. On top of lower wages, lack of facilities, and time pressure have pushed some drivers even to quit their jobs.
According to several groups, including Logistics UK and the British Retail Consortium (BRC), the crisis of driver shortages is anticipated to worsen in the coming months as demand for goods surges in the run-up to Christmas.
Since companies are offering pay rises to attract more drivers, that cost could be passed on to consumers. This means, consumers might end up paying higher prices for goods, services, and shopping — including food prices — going forward. Also, industry-wide supply chain issues, and staffing shortage might become a bigger threat as the food sector nears the busy Christmas season.
The food shortage problems might become worse, but we can take comfort in the fact that the UK government is taking measures to help the country’s people. The British government has once again delayed the introduction of checks on imports from the EU. The checks on food products from the EU will now begin in July 2022. This new delay is expected to help supermarkets that are struggling to keep their shelves fully stocked due to the supply chain crunch. The government believes that the delay will help businesses recover from the pandemic.
At the end of the day, we cannot ignore the fact there is a looming food shortage crisis in the UK. So, the government might have to deploy more measures to help the hospitality, and the logistics sectors, because the holiday rush might put more pressure on businesses. Also, it is highly crucial for these measures to be deployed soon so that consumers don’t have to scramble for essential items such as food, and medicine during these uncertain times.