The UK economy is facing a labor crisis that affects all sectors of the economy, from agriculture to airlines, from hospitality to high-tech industries.
At its heart is a shortage of people to fill the jobs needed to help the economy recover and grow after the pandemic, the product of a unique combination of low unemployment and strong employer demand which, according to some estimates, left the economy short of a million workers. .
The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show there were 1.29 million job vacancies in the economy, almost half a million more than before the pandemic, and more than 1, 28 million unemployed job seekers.
By ending low-skilled immigration, Brexit has further tightened the labor market and, over the same period, around 500,000 more people of working age have become what the ONS calls ‘economically inactive’. , a category covering people who are unemployed or looking for work. work.
These include people unable to work due to illness or to take on full-time family responsibilities, students and pre-retirees. The largest group is the long-term sick, augmented by the long COVID, and four-fifths of them are over 50.
Finding out why this group left the workplace and getting some of the roughly 400,000 people who remain “economically inactive” back to work could help ease a chronic labor shortage in the economy that the governor says of the Bank of England, fuels inflation. .
To understand who they are and why they can’t or won’t work, Sky News spoke to two of the ‘missing millions’.
The pensioner: “Live while you can”
Caroline Dodson, 63, retired in August 2020, aged 61, after COVID changed her outlook on working life.
She accessed her pension earlier, bought a motorhome and now spends her time traveling and volunteering in her community near Salisbury in Wiltshire.
“I had worked for a pension company for 16 years when COVID hit, but I found working from home really difficult. The hours were longer, I didn’t have the screens and the infrastructure I needed. needed.
“So I started thinking, if I don’t have to buy the things I buy to go to work, what could be possible?
“I looked at my wardrobe and thought, you have enough clothes here to last a lifetime, you only buy more to wear to work.
“Maybe there was a way to access part of my pension without taking too much, and without working. I started to take care of the finances and realized that was a possibility.
“So many people have been dying or suffering from COVID for a long time, and I thought, live while you can, who knows what’s around the corner? And even though I’m still pretty active and fit , it was important to make the most of those years if I could. And so in August 2020, I stopped working.
“I had a small pension scheme on my last salary from a company I worked for many years ago and then had flexible access to another pension just to top it up to have just enough to live on.
“I can’t be a spendthrift like I used to be, I live quite frugally now, but I’m happy to do this. I have a small motorhome and I travel whenever I can. It’s not a pass -expensive time. And you wouldn’t believe the amount of people I meet at campsites who have done the same thing as me, retired early during COVID, and there are no regrets.
“I understand there’s a huge skills and knowledge gap in the industry as a result. I’ve been working on the product I’ve been working on since 1987, so that’s a huge amount of experience coming out.
“But if you can, please do. freedom. And it’s the best medicine in the world.”
The long victim of COVID: “It’s heartbreaking”
Nicola Demosthenese, 26, is a music therapist.
She is employed by an NHS Trust, helping children and young people with complex needs including autism, learning disabilities and mental health issues.
After contracting COVID-19 in 2020, she was diagnosed with long COVID last year and was forced to give up her job altogether in April.
“Before COVID I was ambitious, curious, loved to learn, loved to socialize, I’m Greek Cypriot so it’s in my blood. I was hanging out with friends, I was in a club of cycling, every Saturday I rode 40, 50, 60 miles, and shortly before I got COVID I did a 100 mile bike ride for charity.
“I was young, healthy and active and then I got COVID. I remember on day 10 I was allowed out of my house and went for a walk.
“Halfway through the walk, I felt this burst of energy that ripped all my energy out of me. I struggled to get home, and when I did, I collapsed in my bed. And from that moment, I never improved.
“I had joint pain, I had headaches every day, I had brain fog, I couldn’t think clearly, I wasn’t able to concentrate. He was someone who was four months from finishing a master’s degree and who was obtaining distinctions in all his missions.
“The worst was fatigue, that’s a terrible word to describe how debilitating it is. It feels like after a night’s sleep your body’s battery is only 10% charged .
“I managed to finish the degree at home and I passed with great merit. I was very proud of myself and after a summer vacation I started to feel better, so of course I applied for a job.
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“I was employed by an NHS Trust, but at the start of 2022 it was becoming clear to me that I was getting worse and worse, so I reduced my schedule to around three days a week and then to a day and a half, then half a day, then nothing.
“It’s horrible, it’s heartbreaking, it’s devastating. When I finally stopped working, I found it hard to accept the fact that not only was I not able to work, but even to cook for myself. I even have trouble washing my hair.
“My friends are saving for houses, and I’m using my money to try to improve myself even if it’s one per cent, because there’s no real help available on the NHS, I’m spending thousands of pounds.
“I would love to go back to work. I miss my patients, I miss my colleagues, I miss doing what gives me joy. But the motivation I have that got me to where I was is the thing. who will get me out of This fire in my belly still burns a little.
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