The price of food and drink is set to rise in the wake of Brexit, as EU workers depart the UK. Industry groups, including the Food and Drink Federation and the BRC, have urged the government to make changes to the industry and bring its systems in line with financial services, in order to avert a labour crisis and a steep rise in the cost of living. EU citizens comprise 90% of workers in the food supply chain, and without them, the cost of wages in the industry will rise significantly. Without government aid to ensure EU citizens can continue to work in Britain post-Brexit, the industry is facing a crisis.
In an open letter published in The Guardian, and signed by 30 leading bodies in the food and drink industry, the government was called on to acknowledge the ‘essential reservoir of skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled labour’ provided by EU workers in the food industry. Groups such as the Food and Drink Federation, the National Farmers Union, and the British Retail Consortium signed the letter, which went on to state that ‘workers from the European Union, some of whom are already leaving the UK, play a significant role in delivering affordable and high-quality food and drink’.
The letter called for a shake-up of the food industry to switch to a points-based system for EU immigrants, like the systems in place in the automotive and financial services sectors.
‘All options should be explored,’ the letter stated, ‘including a workable points-based system for shortage occupations, sector-based and seasonal/guest worker schemes, and effective transitionary arrangements. If it is not, the UK will face less food choice and higher food prices.’
In addition to citing rising prices in the industry, the letter calls attention to the fact that EU workers have already started leaving Britain in the wake of June’s Brexit vote. Industry groups claim that this is causing a labour shortage that is only going to get worse, unless government officials step in to ‘offer unambiguous reassurance’ for EU workers concerning their rights to remain in the UK and continue working.
These observations have only been lent credence by employment agencies warning that Britain’s food industry is in fact facing its worst labour shortage in over a decade. It is unclear what the future holds for the industry, but if something isn’t done to rectify the issue it would seem that the price of food and drink – and consequently the cost of living – is about to rise steeply.