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Food shortages in Great Britain - statistics & facts

We have all seen the newspaper pictures of empty shelves in British supermarkets. But how severe is the problem of food shortages? During the Coronavirus pandemic, the Office for National Statistics established a regular survey that tracked British consumers' experiences with goods shortages. From the most recent releases we can see that, during the two weeks between September 22 and October 3, about 17 percent of survey respondents said they were unable to buy essential food items. These items were simply unavailable in some stores. This would mean that approximately 8.9 million consumers were unable to buy essential foods. In a follow-up survey between October 6 and October 17 the response of British consumers dropped only by one percent and 16 percent of consumers experienced shortages of essential food items.

Shopping experiences

Besides the shortage of essential food items, other food items were also in short supply. Across Britain, 23 percent of shoppers experienced a shortage of non-essential food items during late September and mid-October. Approximately 43 percent of consumers reported a smaller variety of items being sold than usual. Unavailable items could be replaced with other items by about 20 percent of shoppers. However, another 20 percent of Brits were unable to find replacement food items. This last figure increased to 21 percent from the first survey to the second, while the other responses did not change. These circumstances have significantly lengthened the average grocery shopping trip. Unable to find everything they needed, some food shoppers even had to complete their usual food shopping list online. In the first survey, the East Midlands and the North East of England were the regions where more shoppers experienced a lack of essential food items than anywhere else in Britain. Besides food, fuel is also in short supply and across the country, 15 percent of consumers were unable to buy fuel due to limited availability. Well into October the fuel shortages had worsened and 37 percent of respondents experienced them.

Worker shortages

There is no actual shortage of most of these items in Great Britain. Food, fuel, and other items are available, but they no longer reliably reach the consumer. An acute shortage of lorry drivers has disrupted the supply chain. The result is that shelves remain empty and goods are piling up in British harbors. Some carriers are considering unloading goods in Dutch ports for an eventual relay back to the UK. The lack of Heavy Goods Vehicle (HGV) drivers has forced some producers in Britain to discard tens of thousands of liters of fresh milk. Meat production faces its own crises of skilled labor. A lack of qualified workers in abattoirs has caused the first culls of pigs, and hundreds of thousands more might go to waste in the near future. Similarly, produce has been left rotting in UK fields. HGV driver shortages are an issue that threatens to impact all of Europe. The lion's share of the HGV drivers in the UK is over 50 and the situation in Europe is similar. Currently, not enough workers are being trained to replace retiring drivers. In the case of Britain, the impending crisis was simply put into overdrive. With the global supply chain disrupted by the pandemic, American and European consumers might experience some difficulty obtaining goods for Christmas. Meanwhile, in Great Britain, the outlook has become much more dire.

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