On Wednesday, the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee published its Labour Shortages in the Food and Farming Sector report for 2021-2022.
The purpose of the report was to investigate shortages the food and farming sector has been suffering due principally to Brexit and the covid-19 pandemic. Since last Autumn, labour shortages across the sector were causing crops to go unharvested and left to rot in fields, healthy pigs being were being culled, and widespread disruption began to affect the food supply chain’s ‘just-in-time’ delivery model.
The report’s findings contained calls to action for the Government which are listed below:
- 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.
Responding to the report publication, CLA President Mark Tufnell said:
This report is a welcome addition to the debate about labour supply in the farming sector.
"There is much discussion in government at the moment about the future of our food security. A guaranteed labour supply for farms is an important part of this conversation. We need a long term strategy from government to bring new people into the industry from the UK workforce, whilst ensuring a permanent seasonal workers scheme which can plug the gaps with migrant labour where necessary. As the report recognises, the Government is some considerable way off achieving this goal."
There can be no doubt that the current situation is exacerbating long-standing mental health issues in our sector.
"The high cost of living, uncertainty in international trade, low-profitability, long hours and isolated working conditions – as well as uncertainty in the labour supply - all contribute to the mental health crisis facing our sector. The simple truth is that those living in rural communities often find it hard to access mental health support. Ring-fenced funding for rural mental health services is absolutely necessary, but currently non-existent.”