From the pay gap to the HGV crisis and empty shelves – just what is to blame for the six crises facing Britain this winter – the coronavirus pandemic, or Brexit?
Independent think-tank UK in a Changing Europe analysed data to untangle some of the arguments over what to blame for shortages and price rises – Covid or Brexit.
The work was done by Prof Anand Menon, Prof Jonathan Portes and researchers Sarah Overton, Joël Reland and Alan Wager.
So what’s to blame?
Pay gap – Covid
The Prime Minister’s claim that “wages are rising” is not supported by the data.
As shortages and global energy price rises push up inflation, real wages in the UK have fallen.
Reduced immigration from Brexit may raise pay for some, but high inflation is likely to cancel that out.
What do you think is to blame? Have your say in the comment section
HGV crisis – Brexit
Brexit and poor pay and conditions has made HGV work unattractive, not just because of changes to immigration policy but because of new border controls and other restrictions.
Although other countries are suffering, post-Brexit changes have worsened the UK’s problem.
Labour problem – Covid
Many countries are, like Britain, experiencing domestic labour shortfalls as their economies bounce back from the pandemic shutdown.
But Britain also seems to have suffered from EU workers’ unwillingness – or inability – to return to the UK from their home countries.
Rising prices – definitely Covid
Inflation is likely to top 4% in December.
Higher prices are being caused by a range of factors, including more demand for oil and gas, goods shortages and less Government support for a lot of firms, which are passing on higher costs.
Many countries are experiencing this problem.
Health and care – in between Brexit and Covid
The pandemic put unprecedented pressure on the NHS and social care.
The chronic lack of staff may now be exacerbated by pandemic related ill-health among workers.
Brexit hasn’t helped either, as fewer EU nationals are being retained and recruited.
Empty shelves – 50/50 between Brexit and Covid
The UK is not suffering a general shortage of food or other essentials but anecdotal reports suggest there is a lack of specific goods.
The UK has yet to introduce border checks on goods from the EU, which will introduce further administrative burdens on supply chains.
Sectors facing the worst shortages, based on vacancies
Source: Office for National Statistics/records back to 2001
Transport and storage (includes some lorry drivers and warehouse workers)
Up 19,000 – 56% – to a record 52,000 in past three months
Up 117% in the past year
Up 20,000 – 32% – to record 83,000 in the past three months
Up 123% in the past year
Accommodation and food service (including hotels and restaurants)
Up 25,000 – 22.5% – to 134,000 in the past three months
Up 305% in the past year
Up 13,000 – 45% – to a record 43,000 in the past three months
Up nearly 95% in the past year
Up 25,000 – 38.6% – to 90,000 in the past three months
Up 121% in the past year
On the buses
A mass exodus of bus drivers could affect services nationwide.
The sector is said to lack more than 4,000 bus/coach drivers.
The reasons are similar to the lack of HGV drivers, from EU nationals returning home after Brexit to working conditions.
There are also reports of bus drivers switching to lorry work, with the offer of more pay.
The Confederation of Public Transport said: “It is having an impact across the country.
“More bus drivers are quitting than we can recruit and talk of higher-paid jobs in road haulage is adding to the problem.”
Industry chiefs insist the vast majority of bus and coach services are running as normal.
However, reports say several companies have reduced the frequency of services to try to avoid cancelling school routes.
The scale of the task
– Analysis by Professor Jonathan portes, UK In A Changing Europe
The economy will adjust over time to the end of free movement, albeit at some cost in terms of lower Gross Domestic Product and higher prices.
The new immigration system is more open to workers from outside Europe, which will help fill some gaps, especially in the health sector.
Although in social care the key problem – lack of proper funding translating into lower wages and poor working conditions – is getting worse.
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Immigration is not the cause of our low pay, low productivity economy and lower immigration and labour shortages will not lead automatically to higher productivity or real wages.
That will require investment in connectivity – physical and digital – that allows skilled workers to have productive, well-paid jobs wherever they live; investment in people, that narrows the divide in skills and productivity between those who go to university and those who don’t; and a model of the labour market and welfare system that, instead of forcing people to take any job, shares risks between employers, workers and the state so as to expand choice and opportunity.
So far the Government shows no sign of grasping the scale of the task, as shown by its failure to fund a proper education recovery plan for young people who have fallen behind.