Anyone going on a UK break this month would do well to book pubs and restaurants well in advance, said The Sunday Times – and even if they get a table, they shouldn’t expect a full menu. It is more than a year since the last lockdown, but the hospitality industry is still facing acute labour shortages – and it’s not the only one.
Britain is currently in the grip of an “employment crisis”: there are 1.3 million job vacancies, and for the first time, there are not enough people looking for work to fill them. This is partly down to Brexit: it has “contributed to the exodus of 200,000 EU citizens” in the past two years; but a greater number of people – 450,000 – have simply left the workforce since 2019, and are now “economically inactive” (neither in work, nor looking for work).
You might assume such people are “young flâneurs”, but in fact, this group is mainly made up of over 50s. When the ONS surveyed some of these leavers in February, almost half said they’d left their jobs of their own volition, and only two-fifths said they’d consider going back to work.
The shrinking workforce is “the most urgent problem facing the UK economy”, said Chris Giles in the FT. In total, there are 900,000 fewer workers today than the Bank of England expected before Covid struck. Its governor, Andrew Bailey, has warned that labour shortages are driving up prices and wages (as employers feel obliged to concede to pay demands), thus contributing to his struggle to bring down inflation.