Labour Shortages in the Food Supply Sector and the Government’s recommendations to tackle the issues

The Government has recently published its response to the Independent Review issued in June 2023 into labour shortages in the food supply chain. Recognising the importance of the food supply chain, which contributes over £128 billion to the UK economy each year, and employing over four million people, the Government has outlined a series of actions they have already taken and propose to take to address the recommendations made by the Review.

The insights from this Review are intended to inform ongoing and future policy work, particularly in addressing labour shortages.

Key actions include:

  • Seasonal Worker Visa Route Extension: each year around 60,000 seasonal workers are required to fill in the gaps in the labour shortages, with only 5% of those being British, and around 60% coming over on the Seasonal Worker visa route. The Government’s ambition is for the sector to rely more on automation, however, to provide businesses with the certainty needed for effective planning, the Seasonal Worker visa route will be extended until 2029. This route has a visa quota of around 45,000 visas in 2024, up from 2,500 pre-Brexit. The Government does anticipate that as automation improves, visa allocations will decrease. 
  • Recruitment and Retention: The Government aims to work closely with the Food and Drink Sector Council (FDSC) and the Department of Education to invest in and attract, train, and retain British workers, reducing reliance on overseas labour and promoting a high-skilled, high-wage economy. The Government agrees that more can be done to improve pay, staff benefits and work conditions within the sector to attract local labour, however, they do not outline how this will be done. They do plan to work with the Department of Work and Pensions to deliver recruitment strategies to give jobseekers the skills and knowledge to enter roles within the food supply sector. 
  • Automation Investment: The Government, together with FDSC Automation Project Group will establish a forum where the Government, industry, academia and technology companies can work together to promote the adoption of available technologies. This will act as a knowledge sharing platform that will improve the awareness of the financial support as well as the technologies available to improve automation within the sector. The Government also intends to promote packhouse automation via investment into the development of robotic crop harvesters to reduce the demand of migrant workers.
  • Investment, Research and Development: The Government has increased the existing financial support for agri-innovation by up to £50 million until 2026, and continues to provide grants to farmers, foresters, and growers to invest in equipment, technology and infrastructure that will help their businesses grow.  Further funding is being made available to promote research and development of pioneering technologies and robotics to further enhance the automation of the food supply chain.

These plans and current actions reflect the Government's commitment to sustainable food production and food security in the UK, however, it is evident that more has to be done to prevent labour shortages within the sector. 

If your business is experiencing labour shortages within the food supply industry, and you require assistance with the Seasonal Worker visa route, please contact our Immigration Team who will be happy to assist you with your queries.

For a detailed overview of the Independent Review and the government's full response, you can refer to the official documents provided by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs.

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The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the date of publication and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.

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