Jobless could be put to work as waiters and bar staff

Pub, London - Jose Sarmento Matos/Bloomberg
Pub, London - Jose Sarmento Matos/Bloomberg

Britain’s jobless could be put to work as waiters and bartenders to ease the country’s labour shortage, Downing Street has said.

Rishi Sunak’s spokesman suggested some of the nine million “economically inactive” people should plug gaps in the struggling hospitality sector.

He was responding to complaints from Highclere Castle – the real-life Downton Abbey – that it has had to cancel weddings because it cannot find enough staff. Lady Carnarvon, its owner, has blamed Brexit for a loss of workers, saying European students could previously help out during the summer.

Mr Sunak’s spokesman said the new point-based immigration system meant the UK now has “a greater say… in ensuring we’ve got the right people with the right skills coming into the country”.

The spokesman added: “At the same time we need to make sure the workforce is being trained up, and we are encouraging people who are inactive back into the workforce.

“We know that there are a large number of inactive people in the workforce for a variety of reasons, and we’ve seen that tick up post-pandemic. So we do believe there are more people who can come back in and fill any of these roles.”

Under the points-based system introduced after Brexit, immigrants from the EU must now apply for a visa if they want to get a job – but relatively few jobs in the hospitality sector meet the definition of a skilled worker or the accompanying salary requirements.

The British Beer and Pub Association has said the vacancy rate in the sector stands at 11 per cent, compared to the UK average of four per cent. It has calculated that the shortfall is costing the industry £22 billion a year.

Analysis of ONS figures last autumn suggested that four in 10 bars, cafes and restaurants face difficulty in recruiting the necessary staff.

There are now nine million people who are classified as economically inactive, meaning they are neither in work nor looking for it.

Britain is the only major Western country to have suffered a sustained rise in the number of jobless since the start of the Covid pandemic. Early retirement amongst the over-50s and a sharp increase in long-term sickness have been blamed for the trend.

Mel Stride, the Work and Pensions Secretary, is leading an internal government review of the problem, which will report to Number 10 this month. He is expected to recommend a a mix of tax breaks, reforms to job support and public campaigns to promote flexible working.