Why Suella Braverman’s remedy for the labour crisis won’t work
In an ideal world there would, as the Home Secretary said in her Conservative Party Conference speech, be “absolutely no reason why we can’t train up enough of our own HGV drivers, butchers and fruit-pickers”. However, this is not an ideal world and there are several reasons why it’s simply not practical to fill all these kinds of vacancies with workers from the UK.
Most of the meat we eat in the UK is processed through one of a relatively small number of abattoirs and meat processing plants which are often located in rural areas and where the local rate of unemployment is very low. It’s difficult to source all the workers and skills needed from those local catchments, and it’s often not practical or desirable for British people to relocate themselves and their families to take up a meat plant job.
Although around 96% of people enjoy eating meat, the meat processing industry has always had a greater challenge to attract new entrants. This has been a consistent barrier to finding new staff for decades and doesn’t show any signs of changing, despite the best efforts of meat companies to attract local talent. Butchery is skilled work that requires up to two years training and many more to perfect. However, unlike in many European countries, British school leavers and job seekers see it as less desirable than some other careers.
If the Government wants to nurture a robust and secure domestic food supply chain, they will need to accept that a proportion of vacancies will need to be filled by foreign workers who are prepared migrate to where the work is. Simply announcing that we should be able to train UK workers won’t fix the labour crisis if those workers, for whatever reason, don’t want to take up those jobs.