Employment

The UK could be 2.6 million workers short by 2030

Labour shortages hitting the UK economy across transport, the NHS, hospitality and education will only increase, a study has predicted.

An increasingly elderly population will require more younger people to care for them. Image: Unsplash / John Moeses Bauan

A triple whammy of an ageing population, the pandemic and Brexit will mean the UK could see a labour shortage of 2.6 million workers in less than a decade, research shows.

With labour shortages hitting many sectors of the UK economy including, transport, the NHS, hospitality and education, think-tank International Longevity Centre-UK (ILC) is warning the problem will only get worse unless the government takes action.  

“If we fail to address the workforce challenge, we simply won’t have enough people for the jobs,” warned Les Mayhew, head of global research at the ILC.

“Population ageing, the pandemic and Brexit have come together to form the perfect storm. If we continue with business as usual, we are going to see huge shortfalls hitting all sectors of the economy.”. 

The report projects that with many older workers set to retire and fewer younger workers joining the labour force, as well as fewer migrants from Europe due to Brexit and the pressures of the pandemic, the UK will be facing 2.6m more unfilled vacancies. 

The Office for National Statistics has recently released figures projecting deaths will outnumber births by 59,000 by 2025, leaving Britain’s ageing population relying on younger generations to make up the workforce. 

While the number of people aged 85 and above was around 1.7 million in 2020, this is projected to almost double to 3.1 million by 2045. An increasingly elderly population will require more and more younger people to care for them, generate income to supply pensions, and keep the economy going. 

“We can’t keep plugging the gaps as issues arise from sector to sector. Whether it’s HGV drivers or care workers, at the core we need to ensure we create quality jobs that people can and want to stay in for as long as they want to,” said Mayhew. 

The ILC is urging the government to introduce a comprehensive workforce strategy that looks across the whole economy. This would involve creating more opportunities for flexible working that suits individuals and supports people to stay in work longer, rather than see work as being a choice between just two options: a full time nine to five job or retirement. 

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“We need to remove barriers to people returning to work – be that following time out caring, dealing with a health need or taking parental leave,” Mayhew continued.

The UK is currently short of around 1.2 million workers, as job vacancies reached their highest levels in late 2021 with just 1.3 people per job vacancy.  

The shortage of labour is being felt most acutely in the NHS where the staffing crisis has caused at least 24 NHS Trusts to declare critical incidents – an acknowledgement that their hospitals won’t be able to provide the quality of care they want unless they receive help from other services.

A recent, damning report by MPs found that addressing NHS staff shortages is the single most important thing the government must do to deal with the record 5.8 million patient backlog.

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