Why is the UK suffering from a Labour Shortage?

There are over 1 million job vacancies in the UK in September 2021, but Brexit isn’t the only reason!

There are currently over a million job vacancies in the UK, which is the most since the Office for National Statistics started keeping records!

Vacancies are mainly concentrated in low-skilled, low paid sectors such as:

  • Fruit and Vegetable Harvesting 
  • Care work  
  • Hotel work – cleaning and making beds

The BBC (link above) provide a very handy overview here:

The consequences of Labour Shortages

The Today Programme (R4 Tuesday 14th September) interviewed Ali Capper, the owner of Stocks Farm in Suckley and chair of British Apples and Pears who stated that she had advertised locally for 70 apple and pear pickers, had only 9 applications, of which one had actually followed through by doing the job.

She pointed out that her industry relies mainly on Eastern European seasonal migrant workers from countries such as Poland and Romania, and there are fewer migrants coming to the UK to work – across the fruit picking industry farms are between 10-35% down on their usual labour force.

In some cases, labour shortages are so bad farmers are telling local consumers to come and help themselves, giving away their produce for free as the only other alternative is to let it rot in the fields.

The Today programme also interviewed a guy who runs a business collecting and cleaning laundry from 12 London hotels who says that labour shortages have forced him to reduce the scale of his business – he has had to turn some of his clients down because he can’t get the staff – despite increasing wages from £10 to £15 an hour.

Why are there so many vacancies in these sectors?

Some of the growers themselves blame the government’s immigration policy since Brexit, claiming it is ideological – they refuse to let more people from Eastern Europe and expect companies that traditionally rely on workers from these countries to adapt and recruit locally.  

Analysis from The London School of Economics however suggests that things are a bit more complex. They idenfity the following reasons:

  • Many migrant workers went home during the the Pandemic to be closer to family and now many of them are reluctant to come back, at least partly because of improved opportunities at home – this was a trend BEFORE the pandemic and Brexit!
  • Brexit has made it more difficult for new migrants to come to the UK and it’s reduced the number of people wanting to come here to work because it’s tainted the UK’s image.
  • These jobs are simply too low paid to attract sufficient people to do them!
  • There are still many people on Furlough, reducing the available labour pool though that is set to come to an end shortly.

On further question we might ask is how so many people in Britain can afford NOT to work – the unemployment rate may be historically low, but there are still 3% of the population unemployed, meaning there are sufficient people in the country to do the jobs, but who are presumably able to survive without working.

The New Right might suggest the government needs to make life more difficult for these people shirking work!

Relevance to A-level sociology

These labour shortages illustrate the problems that can happen when globalisation slows down as a result of international migration becoming more difficult (whatever the reasons) and remind us how crucial global flows of labour are for keeping our economy going.

This topic probably isn’t the most relevant to any of the main modules, but it does apply somewhat to the topics of globalisation and migration, the later being relevant to the family module.

It’s also quite a nice one to get students to apply sociological perspectives too, just to get them thinking!

Please click here to return to the main ReviseSociology home page!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.