Question to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs:
To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what steps he is taking to tackle the long-term shortage of labour in the food and drink sector.
Defra is working closely with industry to help our world-leading farmers and food and drink businesses access the labour they need, and to ensure that our sectors are appropriately supported both this year and in the future.
On 22 December 2020, the Government extended the Seasonal Workers Pilot into 2021, with up to 30,000 visas available, granted for workers to come to the UK, from EU or non-EU countries, for a period of up to six months to work in the edible horticulture sector.
In December 2020, a Defra-led review into automation in horticulture was also announced alongside the extension of the Seasonal Workers Pilot. The review will report on ways to increase automation in the horticulture sector and meet the Government’s aim of reducing the need for migrant seasonal labour.
There are a number of initiatives across Government to bring these technologies to market as fast as possible, including Transforming Food Production, Defra’s Farming Innovation Programme and Farming Investment Fund as well as other public funding initiatives.
The Farming Innovation Programme opened for applications on 20 October 2021 and will support the sector to develop new technologies, systems and processes to deliver enhanced productivity and support wider net zero goals.
On 1 January 2021 the Government introduced the new points-based immigration system, under which EU and non-EU citizens are treated equally. The Skilled Worker route is open to all nationals who wish to come to the UK for the purpose of working in a skilled job they have been offered.
Alongside this, food and drink businesses will also be able to recruit those who come to the UK through our youth mobility schemes, dependents of skilled workers, plus those who arrive through other routes, such as our humanitarian protection ones, who have free access to the UK labour market.
In 2021 and beyond, the food and drink industry continues to be able to rely on EU nationals living in the UK with settled or pre-settled status. Over 5.3 million EU citizens and their families have been granted status under the EU Settlement Scheme and EU nationals who have settled status can continue to travel to the UK to do seasonal work in the food and drink sector.
Defra is also working closely with the Home Office to ensure there is a long-term strategy for the food and farming workforce beyond 2021.
For the longer term, the Government is encouraging all sectors to make employment more attractive to UK domestic workers through offering training, careers options, wage increases and to invest in increased automation technology.
To support these efforts, Defra is working with industry and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to raise awareness of career opportunities within the food and drink sectors among UK workers. All food and drink businesses are encouraged to advertise roles through DWP's Find A Job website, where they can upload and manage their vacancies. DWP does not charge for this service and it is available across the United Kingdom.
Defra welcomes the Ministry of Justice’s work on the Release On Temporary Licence (ROTL) scheme for work across a number of sectors, including the food and drink sector. The scheme aims to help prisoners gain useful skills and work experience as they approach their release.
The Government is continuing to work extensively to understand employers’ needs through regular engagement with industry and encourage them to invest in the best home-grown talent through Government-backed schemes such as apprenticeships and T Levels.