The chair of the the environment, food and rural affairs committee, which has published a report about “acute labour shortages” in the food and farming industry, said he was “hopeful” the home office was listening to concerns.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Neil Parish said:
I am hopeful that the Home Office is listening but they must listen and do something about it rather than just leave it and it’ll sort itself out, because it won’t.
Chronic worker shortages in the food and farming sector as a result of Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic could push food prices even higher and lead to more having to be imported, MPs have warned.
Parliamentarians on the environment, food and rural affairs committee reported that the sector had half a million vacancies in August last year, representing an eighth of all roles.
The huge labour shortages in the food industry have led to unharvested crops being left to rot in fields, the cull of healthy pigs on farms because of a lack of workers at meat processing plants, and disruption to the food supply chain, as well as threatening the UK’s food security.
The committee – which is chaired by the Conservative MP Neil Parish, along with five other Conservatives, four Labour MPs and one Scottish National party colleague – wrote in a report that the workforce shortfall was the “single biggest factor affecting the sector”.
The food industry is the UK’s largest manufacturing sector but MPs issued the stark warning that it could shrink permanently if the government does not address the acute labour shortages, which could lead to wage rises, price increases, reduced competitiveness and, ultimately, food production being exported abroad.
They found that food and farming businesses have been badly hit by a lack of workers, with the pig sector particularly affected, prompting a crisis in domestic production. Industry associations have previously claimed that as many as 40 independent farms have left the sector as a result.
Farmers have been warning for some time about a lack of workers, after many overseas workers went home during the pandemic, and Brexit has limited the number of EU temporary workers who can travel to the UK on the seasonal worker visa scheme.
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Increasing national insurance for millions of workers is unfair and comes at the wrong time as the nation faces a cost-of-living crisis, Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey has said.
He told BBC Breakfast that “the NHS and the care system does need money but it needs to be done in a fair way”.
On the national insurance rise, he said:
It doesn’t tax the unearned income of very wealthy people. It doesn’t tax the income of landlords. It puts all the burden on working people – that is wrong.
Yes, we need more money for the NHS and social care. The Conservatives starved it of money and one reason why the pandemic was so difficult was that the Tories had underfunded the NHS.
He said that income tax could go up a penny in the pound because that “spreads the burden and makes sure that wealthy people do pay their fair share”.
Davey told the programme:
The problem we have at the moment is that the conservatives are not only taking an unfair approach to funding the NHS, but they are putting this tax rise up just at the wrong moment.
The health secretary has defended the decision to hike up national insurance for millions of workers as he argued it is “right that we pay for what we are going to use as a country”.
Sajid Javid told Sky News it was “necessary” because of the impact of the pandemic, which is going to have an impact for years.
It kicks in today, the new health and social care levy. All of the funding raised from it is going to go towards the extra 39 billion we are going to put in over the next three years to health and social care.
It’s going to pay in the NHS for activity levels that are some 130% of pre-pandemic, it’s going to be nine million more scans, tests and procedures, meaning people will get seen a lot earlier.
Why is any of this necessary, whether it is for health or social care? It’s because of the impact of the pandemic. We know it is unprecedented. It has been the biggest challenge in our lifetime. The impact of that is going to continue for many years.
You asked me about the fairness of it. When we spend money on public services, whether it’s NHS or anything else, for that matter, the money can only come from two sources. You raise it directly for people today, that’s through taxes, or you borrow it, which essentially you are asking the next generation to pay for it.
I think it is right that we pay for what we are going to use as a country but we do it in a fair way. This levy, the way it is being raised is the top 15% of earners will pay almost 50%. I think that is the right way to do this.
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It was one of the Conservatives’ most controversial cuts: waging war on the UK’s “benefit culture” by restricting social security payments that supposedly enabled “welfare scroungers” to have large families they could ill-afford.
The two-child policy – which limits benefits payments to the first two children born to the poorest households – would, proponents argued, cut the welfare bill and bring “feckless” parents to heel by – as one minister put it – teaching them “the reality that children cost money.”
New research, however, indicates the behavioural change aspect of the policy has dismally failed. Since its introduction exactly five years ago today, the fertility rate for third and subsequent children born to poorer families has barely fallen. Instead, the main impact of the policy has been to become the biggest single driver of child poverty.
Prof Jonathan Portes, co-author of the study said:
In the absence of a behavioural fertility response to the policy, the main function of the two-child limit is to deprive families living on a low income of approximately £3,000 a year. This will inevitably lead to dramatic increases in child poverty among larger families.
Analysis of birth records and household survey data for the study, commissioned by the Nuffield Foundation, found the policy’s introduction in 2017 led to a decline in births of third children of just 5,600 a year – fewer than 1% of the total annual births in England and Wales.
The study speculates as to why the policy has had so little behavioural impact. Unpublished research suggests over half of families were unaware of the policy before they were affected. Many large families – Orthodox Jewish and Muslim families are disproportionately affected – may ignore it for religious reasons.
The research comes as fresh estimates suggest that 1.4 million children in more than 400,000 families in the UK are affected by the two-child policy. April’s below-inflation benefits rise means affected families with three children face a £983 a month shortfall in benefits, with larger families facing an even bigger hole in their income.
Sara Ogilvie of Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), which produced the estimates, said:
The two-child limit is a brutal policy that punishes children simply for having brothers and sisters. It forces families to survive on less than they need, and with soaring living costs the hardship and hunger these families face will only intensify.
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