Long queues at petrol pumps, with many filling stations running out of fuel; fears of shortages of food and various other items in supermarkets; orders by shops and warehouses unfilled or delayed. These have been some of the headlines in the UK in recent days.
The immediate problem is a shortage of over 100 000 lorry drivers, with thousands of drivers from EU countries, who were previously living and working in the UK, having returned to their home countries. Their numbers have not been replaced by British drivers, a problem exacerbated by a decline in HGV tests during the pandemic. Thus the supply of lorry drivers has fallen.
At the same time, as the economy recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, aggregate demand has risen and with it the demand for lorry drivers.
The shortage is pushing up wages somewhat, but not enough to eliminate the shortage. What is more, the supply of lorry drivers is relatively wage inelastic: a higher wage does not attract many more drivers into the market. Also the demand is also relatively wage inelastic: a higher wage does not do much to dampen the demand for drivers.
But why has this happened? Why has the supply of drivers fallen and why is it inelastic? And what will happen in the coming months? The three main causes are Brexit, COVID-19 and working conditions.
With Brexit, many EU workers left the UK, finding life and working conditions more conducive in the EU. Many EU drivers had faced discrimination and felt that they were not welcome in the UK. It has been difficult finding replacement drivers from the EU as the UK’s immigration system, which now applies to the EU as well as other countries, prioritises workers who are classified as high-skilled, and these do not include lorry drivers.
Those EU drivers who do want to stay as UK residents are finding that settled status or visas are not easy to achieve and involve filling in various documents, which can be an onerous and time-consuming process. As the writer of the first linked bog below, who is a Polish worker in the transport industry, states, ‘Would you rather come to Britain and jump through all the hoops, or choose any of the well-paying EU countries, for example, Germany that, if you live in Western Poland, is just a short drive across (virtually non-existent thanks to Schengen) border?’ Another problem is that with EU driving licences: it is harder for potential employers to check on their status and thus they may prefer to employ UK drivers. This, again, puts off EU drivers from seeking to stay in the UK.
Even in the case of EU drivers living in the EU but delivering to the UK there are problems. First there are the dangers for drivers of boarding ferries in France, where people from migrant camps seek to board lorries to get passage to the UK, often threatening drivers. If illegal migrants do succeed in boarding a trailer unseen by the driver, the driver can then be arrested in the UK. According to the Polish blogger, it’s ‘no surprise that I hear more and more drivers who, when taking on new jobs, demand guarantees from their employers that they won’t be sent to the UK’.
Then there is a decline in the system known as ‘cabotage’. This is where an EU driver delivers from the EU to destination A in the UK and takes back a load to the EU from destination B in the UK. To avoid having to travel empty between the two UK destinations, the driver could pick up a load to take from A to B. With a fall in imports and exports from and to the EU following Brexit, there are fewer EU lorries on UK roads. This means that there is now less capacity for transporting loads within the UK.
There has also been a large rise in ‘red tape’ associated with post-Brexit customs checks and border controls. This means that lorries can be held up at ports. This makes it much less attractive for EU haulage companies to export to the UK rather than to other EU countries, where paperwork is minimal. In addition, m many drivers are paid by the length of the journey rather than by the time spent, so delays result in them earning less per hour. Full checks have not been introduced yet. When they are, in January and July next year, the problem will be worse.
Tax changes make it more difficult for drivers to avoid taxes by claiming that they are self employed when they are in reality employees. This too is discouraging drivers from the EU from moving to or staying in the UK since many would now (since April 2021) be paying more tax.
Another contributing factor to the shortage of drivers has been COVID-19 and the government’s response to it. COVID rates are considerably higher in the UK than in most EU countries and, not surprisingly, many EU drivers are afraid to come to the UK.
The pandemic led to fewer HGV driver tests, with 25 000 fewer candidates passing their test in 2020 than in 2019. It takes time to train new drivers and then to test them. However, even if there had been no reduction in HGV drivers passing their tests, there would still be a significant shortage of qualified drivers.
A further problem with the effects of COVID-19 on the economy has been the initial recession and then the bounce back. The sheer size of the bounce back has exacerbated the problem of driver shortages, which otherwise would have been slower to develop, giving the market more time to respond. Real GDP grew by 5.5% from 2021 Q1 to 2021 Q2, giving an annual growth rate of 23.6%. Nevertheless, GDP was still some 3.3% below its 2019 Q3 level.
Pay and working conditions
Working conditions are very poor for many drivers. The following are common complaints:
- Driving jobs are often very tightly controlled, with computer monitoring and little freedom for the driver. Some cabs have cameras aimed at the drivers so that they can be constantly monitored.
- Drivers are subject to very stringent health and safety regulations, such as not being allowed to drive longer than a certain time, even when they are queuing in congested traffic. Whilst many of these regulations are desirable to protect both the public’s and the driver’s safety, they can discourage drivers from entering or staying in the industry. And some regulations are hard to justify on safety grounds (see second linked article below, point 13).
- Just-in-time deliveries at supermarkets, regional distribution centres (warehouses) or factories make timing very important and add considerable stress to drivers who may face abuse if they are late, even though it was not their fault, with their employer perhaps facing a fine. And yet on other occasions they might have to wait a long time to offload if drivers before them have been delayed, and often the conditions in waiting areas are poor with few if any facilities.
- Drivers often feel a lack of respect from employers, trainers and the general public.
- Rest and refreshment facilities are often very poor in the UK and generally much worse than in the EU. In the EU, motorway service areas have better parking, toilets, showers and shops. Restaurants are better and cheaper. Dedicated truck stops have supermarkets, laundrettes, showers or even open-air gyms dedicated to making drivers’ lives easier and more pleasant. The UK by contrast often has very poor facilities. Unlike in most EU motorway services, drivers have to pay to park and are faced with poor toilet and eating facilities. ‘Meanwhile, a typical British truck stop is some dusty yard full of potholes on the side of some industrial estate with a portaloo and a “greasy spoon” burger van parked next to it.’
- Hours are long. Even though driving hours are restricted to 10 hours per day (recently extended to 11 hours), the average working day may be much longer as drivers have to wait at distribution centres, fill in increasing amounts of paperwork and help load or unload their vehicle. Also drivers may have to work variable shifts, which leads to disturbed sleeping patterns.
- The work is often physically demanding, especially when a large part of the job involves loading and unloading and moving items from the lorry to where the customer wants them.
- Many vehicles are hard and unpleasant to drive, with leased vehicles often low-spec, dirty, uncomfortable and poorly maintained.
- Many of the jobs are agency jobs that do not offer stable employment.
Although pay is higher than in some parts of the labour market where there are shortages, such as social care and hospitality, pay per hour is still relatively poor when compared with many industries which have better conditions of employment.
The government is allowing more foreign workers into the UK from this month (October); more training places will be offered for potential drivers and the number of driving tests will increase; the government is also encouraging retired drivers or those who have left driving for other jobs to return to the industry.
However, there are shortages of drivers in other EU countries and so it will be difficult to attract additional drivers to the UK from the EU. What is more, with wages and working conditions remaining poor and the labour market remaining tight in other sectors, it might be hard to fill new training places and encourage workers to return to driving. Also, with the average age of drivers being 55, it is likely that the outflow of workers from driving jobs could be large in the coming years.
- Twenty reasons why there is an HGV driver shortage – part one: 1-10
West Country Bylines, Tomasz Oryński (21/9/21)
- Twenty reasons why there is an HGV driver shortage – part 2: reasons 11-20
West Country Bylines, Tomasz Oryński (23/9/21)
- Gas Shortages Awaken Britain to Some Crucial Workers: Truck Drivers
New York Times, Eshe Nelson and Megan Specia (29/9/21)
- Time running out to save UK industry from worker shortages, say business leaders
CNN, Walé Azeez (1/10/21)
- Boris Johnson’s Brexit choices are making Britain’s fuel and food shortages worse
CNN, Hanna Ziady (29/9/21)
- How serious is the shortage of lorry drivers?
BBC News, Reality Check Team (28/9/21)
- Petrol shortage: Is the fuel crisis improving?
BBC News (1/10/21)
- UK visa plan will not fix lorry driver shortage, says boss
BBC News (28/9/21)
- The empty shelves crisis isn’t just down to Covid and Brexit – it’s been decades in the making
The Guardian, Felicity Lawrence (17/9/21)
- Emergency visa scheme extended in major U-turn by Boris Johnson
The Guardian, Rajeev Syal (1/10/21)
- Truck driver shortage won’t be solved by quick fix visas – here are three ways forward
The Conversation, Temidayo Akenroye (27/9/21)
- UK lorry driver shortage a stark example of a wider European problem
Euronews, Luke Hurst and Shona Murray (29/9/21)
- Emergency visas won’t tempt European lorry drivers to UK, say haulage chiefs
The Observer, Jon Henley, Michael Savage and James Tapper (25/9/21)
- Labour shortage threatens to cancel out any Brexit dividend
British Meat Processors Association, Industry News, Peter Hardwick (28/9/21)
- How to control a consumer panic
BBC News. Faisal Islam (28/9/21)
- Why are the supply of and demand for lorry drivers relatively wage inelastic?
- Use a marginal productivity diagram to explain the current situation in the market for lorry drivers.
- What policy measures could be adopted to increase the supply of lorry drivers? How successful would these be?
- Is it ‘rational’ for consumers to ‘panic buy’ fuel and other products in short supply?
- Find out why there is a shortage of lorry drivers in the EU. Are any of the explanations similar to those in the UK?
- What are the macroeconomic implications of a shortage of lorry drivers and other key workers?
Many people are attracted to work in the private sector, with expectations of greater opportunities for promotion, more variation in work and higher salaries. However, according to the Office for National Statistics, it may be that the oft-talked-of pay differential is actually in the opposite direction. Data from the ONS suggests that public sector workers are paid 14.5% more on average than those working in the private sector.
As is the case with the price of a good, the price of labour (that is, the wage rate) is determined by the forces of demand and supply. Many factors influence the wages that individuals are paid and traditional theory leads us to expect higher wages in sectors where there are many firms competing for labour. With the government acting as a monopsony employer, it has the power to force down wages below what we would expect to see in a perfectly competitive labour market. However, the ONS data suggests the opposite. What factors can explain this wage differential?
Jobs in the public sector, on average, require a higher degree of skills. There tend to be entry qualifications, such as possessing a university degree. While this is the case for many private-sector jobs as well, on average it is a greater requirement in the public sector. The skills required therefore help to push up the wages that public-sector workers can demand. Another explanation could be the size of public-sector employers, which allows them to offer higher wages. When the skills, location, job specifications etc. were taken into account, the 14.5% average hourly earnings differential declined to between just 2.2% and 3.1%, still in favour of public-sector workers. It then reversed to give private-sector workers the pay edge, once the size of the employer was taken out.
Further analysis of the data also showed that, while it may pay to be in the public sector when you’re starting out on your career, it pays to be in the private sector as you move up the career ladder. Workers in the bottom 5% of earners will do better in the public sector, while those in the top 5% of earners benefit from private-sector employment. The ONS said:
Looking at the top 5%, in the public sector earnings are greater than £31.49 per hour, while in the private sector, the top 5% earn more than £33.63 per hour… The top 1% of earners in the private sector, at more than £60.21 per hour, earns considerably more than the top 1% of earners in the public sector, at more than £49.65 per hour.
The data from the ONS thus suggest a reversal in the trend of average public-sector pay being higher than private sector pay, once all the relevant factors are taken into account.
This will naturally add to debates about living standards, which are likely to take on a stronger political slant as the next election approaches. It is obviously partly down to the public-sector pay freeze that we saw in 2010 and also to a reversal, at least in part, of the previous trend from 2008, where public-sector pay had been growing faster than private-sector pay. However, depending on the paper you read or the person you listen to, they will offer very different views as to who gets paid more. All you need to do in this case is look at the titles of the newspaper articles written by the Independent and The Telegraph! Whatever the explanation, these new data provide a wealth of information about relative prospects for pay for everyone.
Public and Private Sector Earnings Office for National Statistics (March 2014)
Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings, 2013 Provisional Results Office for National Statistics (December 2013)
Austerity bites as private sector pay rises above the public sector for the first time since 2010 Independent, Ben Chu (10/3/14)
Public sector workers still better paid despite the cuts The Telegraph, John Bingham (10/3/14)
Public sector hourly pay outstrips private sector pay BBC News (10/3/14)
Public sector workers are biggest losers in UK’s post-recession earnings squeeze The Guardian, Larry Elliott (11/3/14)
New figures go against right-wing claims that public sector workers are grossly overpaid Independent, Ben Chu (10/3/14)
Public sector pay sees biggest shrink on 2010, figures suggest LocalGov, Thomas Bridge (11/3/14)
Public sector staff £2.12 an hour better off The Scotsman, David Maddox (11/3/14)
- Illustrate the way in which wages are determined in a perfectly competitive labour market.
- Why does monopsony power tend to push wages down?
- Why does working for a large company suggest that you will earn a higher wage on average?
- Using the concept of marginal revenue product of labour, explain the way in which higher skills help to push up wages.
- How significant are public-sector pay freezes in explaining the differential between public- and private-sector pay?
- Why is there a difference between the bottom and top 5% of earners? How does this impact on whether it is more profitable to work in the public or private sector?
The most popular sport in the world: football. What else?! Huge games and salaries to match. But is it really as glamorous as we think? We may see some top players receiving a salary per week that most people can’t hope to come close to in a year, but players at Portsmouth have had to go without their wages on three occasions, as the club entered financial strife. It is these high salaries that prevent many clubs from breaking even, let alone making a profit. Whilst a lack of salary to footballers is a rare occurence, the football industry isn’t the money-churning machine that it appears to be.
We’re used to seeing full stadia and fans decked out in their club’s regalia, so surely football clubs are awash with money? But things aren’t so rosy. Research published by the Centre for the International Business of Sport at Coventry University in 2008 revealed that clubs in the top four tiers of English football between the 2001/2 and 2005/6 seasons made an aggregated loss of more than £1bn. In addition, 56 clubs in the English leagues went bankrupt between the Insolvency Act’s introduction in 1986 and June 2008.
We’ve seen a number of buyouts of clubs in recent years by extremely wealthy families. The Glazer family bought Manchester United in 2005, yet this buyout and many others are heavily leveraged and servicing their debts is now proving a problem. Whilst some clubs publish annual profits, it doesn’t mean they are without debt. Manchester United, defending champions of the English football league, earned profits of £48.2 million in the 2008/9 season, but its debts are estimated at around £700 million. The club received a loan of £509.5 million and had to pay £41.9 million in interest.
The owners of Chelsea and Manchester City have recently converted £340 million and £304.9 million of loans into equity respectively. Financiers, however, say this is simply “moving money from their left pocket to the right”. Manchester City reported a massive loss of £92.6 million for the 2008/9 financial year. Unfortunately for them, these figures ignore outlays since May 2009 for Carlos Tevez, Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Adebayor. Portsmouth’s £7 million share of TV revenue has been diverted directly to other clubs to whom they owe money for transfers.
So, how much of a money-maker is football? Well stadia are still full and it’s certainly growing in popularity in Asia. Premier teams are now appreciating how much money can be made out there by selling television rights. However, in 2008 the FA chairman Lord Triesman still estimated that English football debts stood at £3bn. With all this debt, are there any positives? Just one – at least it’s less than the UK’s public debt!
Abu-Dhabi family reduce debt for Manchester City Campden FB (7/1/10)
Manchester City post massive loss BBC News (6/1/10)
What a waste of money – the Premier League’s best paid flops Guardian, Jamie Jackson (10/1/10)
Portsmouth players still not paid as Premier League expresses concern at crisis Telegraph, Paul Kelso (6/1/10)
Paying by the rules The Lawyer, Adam Plainer (11/1/10)
Jacob unimpressed by fan protests Press Association (11/1/09)
Cardiff City to face winding up order BBC Sport (8/1/10)
Debt swap is ‘window dressing’ The Independent, Nick Clark (7/1/10)
Manchester United aim to raise £500m in bond sale in bid to reduce mounting debt Telegraph, Mark Ogden (11/1/10)
Chelsea debt wiped off by Roman Abramovich but club still record loss Telegraph (30/12/09)
Manchester United to raise £500m BBC News (11/1/10)
Cristiano Ronaldo saves Man-Utd – Again Sky News (11/1/10)
Tony Fernandes and David Sullivan vie for control of West Ham Telegraph, Jason Burt (16/1/10)
One thing at Manchester United isn’t going downhill – their debt Guardian, David Conn (6/1/10)
Premier League looks to cash in on Asia BBC News, Guy de Launey (29/12/09)
- Why do footballers receive such high wages? Illustrate why wages in the Premier League are so much higher than those received by players in non-league teams. What’s the key factor?
- What is debt swapping?
- In the Independent article: ‘Dept swap is Window dressing’, what does it mean by (a) window dressing and (b) debt swap is ‘moving money from their left pocket to the right’?
- How can a club such as Manchester United record a profit, but have substantial debts?
- What is leveraging and why is it a problem for some football teams?
- How will an issue of bonds enable a football club to refinance its debt?
- What opportunities does Asia present to English football?
The New Economic Foundation (NEF) is “an independent think-and-do tank that inspires and demonstrates real economic well-being.” It aims “to improve quality of life by promoting innovative solutions that challenge mainstream thinking on economic, environmental and social issues. We work in partnership and put people and the planet first.” It has just published a study into pay, A Bit Rich: Calculating the real value to society of different professions (see link below). This argues that narrow notions of productivity, whilst having some relation to pay, are a poor way of judging the worth of particular jobs to society.
“In this report NEF … takes a new approach to looking at the value of work. We go beyond how much different professions are paid to look at what they contribute to society. We use some of the principles and valuation techniques of Social Return on Investment analysis to quantify the social, environmental and economic value that these roles produce – or in some cases undermine.
Our report tells the story of six different jobs. We have chosen jobs from across the private and public sectors and deliberately chosen ones that illustrate the problem. Three are low paid – a hospital cleaner, a recycling plant worker and a childcare worker. The others are highly paid – a City banker, an advertising executive and a tax accountant. We recognise that our incentives are created by the institutions and systems around us. It is not our intention therefore, to target the individuals that do these jobs but rather to examine the professions themselves.”
So, to what extent do rates of pay reflect the ‘true value’ of what is being created? How could we establish this ‘true value’? Does pay even reflect marginal productivity in the narrow private sense? The report and the articles look at these issues.
A Bit Rich New Economics Foundation (14/12/09), (see also)
Top bankers destroy value, study claims Financial Times, Chris Giles (14/12/09)
Hospital cleaners ‘worth more to society than bankers Telegraph, James Hall (14/12/09)
Cleaners ‘worth more to society’ than bankers – study BBC News, Martin Shankleman (14/12/09)
Cleaners worth more to society than bankers, says thinktank Guardian (14/12/09)
Hospital cleaners ‘of more value to society than bankers’ Scotsman, Alan Jones (14/12/09)
Bankers and accountants a drain on the state, says think-tank Management Today (14/12/09)
Are cleaners worth more than bankers? BBC World Service (14/12/09)
- What is meant by the marginal productivity theory of wage determination? Does the NEF study undermine this theory? Explain.
- Why are elite bankers, tax accountants and advertising executives paid so much more than hospital cleaners, waste recycling workers and childcare workers?
- “Until the prices of goods and services reflect the true costs of their production, incentives will be misaligned. This means damaging activities will be relatively cheap and profitable, while positive activities will be discouraged.” Explain this statement and whether you agree with it.
- To what extent can the misalignment of pay and social worth be explained by externalities?
- What is the basis for arguing that tax accountants and City bankers have negative social worth? Do you agree? Explain.
- What would happen if hospital cleaners were give a pay rise and bankers given a pay cut so that cleaners ended up with a higher pay than bankers?
- In the light of the NEF study, what policies should the government adopt toward pay inequality?
The problem with banks and the financial sector is that we need them. Who knows what might have happened if the government hadn’t stepped in to bail out the banks. And that’s one of the key arguments for continuing to pay bankers’ bonuses. If they left their jobs and the banks ceased to exist, we’d be looking at a very bleak future.
The truth is: ‘we need them’ and, what’s worse, they know it. As Frank Skinner said in a Times article: ‘during the crisis bankers will be thinking, “Don’t panic. The public have got short memories. Show them the slightest hint of recovery and most of them will forget their moral indignation and we can start where we left off – making the biggest splashes we can and not worrying about the ripples” ‘.
Despite the argument for continuing to pay out bonuses, a large proportion of the public are understandably angry that bankers are still receiving enormous bonuses. Not only are banks and the financial sector largely responsible for the current recession, but it is taxpayers who have bailed them out and who now pay their bonuses. However, things could be about to change.
The FSA is set to get powers, allowing it to ‘tear up’ bankers’ bonus contracts, especially for those taking reckless risks that threaten the stability of the financial sector. The new regulations will be found in the Financial Services Bill, which, if approved by Parliament, will apply to all British banks, as well as the British subsidiaries of overseas banks operating in the UK. Multi-million pound payments will be able to be blocked and fines will be imposed on banks who offer unjustified ‘mega-bucks pay-outs’.
Despite this impending regulation, not everyone thinks it will be successful. Sir George Mathewson, the former Chairman of RBS, has said that interfering with bankers’ contracts is a ‘dangerous route to go down’. Read the following articles that consider this contentious issue.
Bankers bonuses’ ‘will soar to £6bn’ after government bailouts and rising profits Times Online, Katherine Griffiths (21/10/09)
Bonus crackdown plans dangerous BBC News (16/11/09)
Financial regulation ‘has broken down’ BBC Today Programme (16/11/09)
Roger Bootle: Bank reform hasn’t gone far enough (video) BBC News (25/12/09)
FSA to get powers to tear up’ bankers’ bonus contracts Citywire, Nicholas Paler (16/11/09)
It’ll be tough for bankers on a £200k bonus Times Online, Frank Skinner (13/11/09)
Prince Andrew defends bankers’ bonuses even as economy stays mired in recession Mail Online, Kate Loveys (24/10/09)
Curb on bankers’ bonuses to be unveiled in Queens’ speech Mail Online (13/11/09)
Bankers warn laws on pay and bonuses will scare off talent Telegraph Angela Monaghan (13/11/09)
Labour to overturn bonus deals at risk-taking banks Guardian Patrick Wintour (13/11/09)
Banking on the State Guardian (17/11/09)
Queen outlines new banking laws BBC News (18/11/09)
Queen’s Speech: what the Financial Bill really means for bankers’ bonuses Telegraph, Tracy Corrigan (18/11/09)
Brown Puts Deficit Curbs, Bonus Limits on U.K. Agenda Bloomberg, Gonzalo Vina and Thomas Penny (18/11/09)
Queen’s speech 2009: financial services bill Guardian, Jill Treanor (18/11/09)
- What is meant by ‘regulation’ and what forms does it take?
- Why are banks and the financial services largely blamed for the current recession? Will financial regulation of bonuses prevent a repeat of the current crisis?
- What are the arguments for and against further regulation? Why does the former Chairman of RBS argue that cracking down on bonuses could be ‘dangerous’? Do you agree?
- Why are bankers paid so much? How is the equilibrium wage rate determined in this sector?
- Should bankers receive bonuses? Think about the incentive effect; the effect on productivity. What are the possible consequences for those working in banking of bonuses being reduced and possibly removed if they are deemed to threaten financial stability?