Companies needing HGV drivers, fruit pickers and factory staff are scrambling to hire inmates in a bid to make up the shortfall caused by the pandemic and Brexit. The move comes after growing concern at the prospect of severely depleted ‑ or even empty ‑ supermarket shelves at Christmas, including a lack of turkeys.
Business leaders have warned ministers that a shortage of around 90,000 HGV drivers is “placing increasingly unsustainable pressure on retailers and supply chains”.
Some stores are reportedly already feeling the pinch, with fruit, vegetables and baked goods in short supply.
Nick Allen, chief executive of the British Meat Processors Association, said: “Businesses are contacting charities for ex-servicemen and women and the prison service, as well as advertising on social media to attract younger people ‑ anything they can think of.”
He added: “The situation is getting worse. One member said at this rate, Christmas is going to be a disaster.”
Hiring suitable inmates nearing the end of their sentences at open prisons is long-established practice.
Government schemes allow inmates to do paid work on temporary release as a way of preparing them for a full-time return to the community.
Prisoners did 58,752 days of work-related release between October last year and March.
The shortage of workers is also partly due to the fallout from the UK leaving the European Union in January last year.
According to industry figures, 14,000 HGV drivers from the EU left employment in Britain in the year to June 2020 but only 600 have returned.
James Bailey, executive director of Waitrose, recently warned that increases in food bills were “completely unavoidable”.
Some experts estimate grocery inflation could reach five percent.