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Britain's Biggest Shortage

Emily Carver

October 14, 2021.

We Brits love to catastrophise. If we’re not fretting over Christmas turkeys, we’re brawling at the petrol pumps. Meanwhile, Insulate Britain campaigners are gluing themselves to the motorway in fear of a climate Armageddon. Situation normal. We clearly like a good disaster – or, at least, the prospect of one.

Over the course of the pandemic, there’s been an insatiable appetite for bad news (not helped by large parts of the media who are incentivised to stoke panic). Indeed, our national state broadcaster continues to play on fears that children still aren’t safe in schools, despite vanishing evidence to the contrary – the risk of death from the virus is estimated to be one in 481,000 children.

Then there are those who, even now, can’t accept that we have left the European Union (and that the chances of us re-joining are even lower than Nicola Sturgeon giving up her dream of breaking up our own Union). In their view, our woes – from pandemic-induced HGV driver shortages to the energy crunch – are all down to Brexit.

It seems that every problem we face is a “crisis”, but does the reality really warrant this level of angst? Doubtless the economy faces a multitude of challenges. Labour shortages, a rise in inflation, and a cost-of-living squeeze have all led to claims that we are heading for a 'winter of discontent'.

Couple this with long-term, long-standing concerns, such as a healthcare system that is creaking at the seams, a social care system that desperately needs reform, and a record tax burden only seems to be heading in one direction, it would be disingenuous to suggest we’ll sail through the next six months.

A winter of discontent is looming - or is it?

Kevan James

So, a dose of optimism: many of the ghastly predictions that have been splashed across our front pages, thankfully, have so far been proven incorrect. We were told by the Office for Budget Responsibility that the jobless rate could reach levels not seen since the 1980s. Even a cautious reading of yesterday’s strong employment data – which puts last month’s jobless rate at 4.5 per cent – show that is highly unlikely to come to pass. It’s still early days, and many workers have just entered post-furlough limbo, but it looks as if we may have managed to see off the threat of mass unemployment.

Not all of those who lost jobs during the pandemic will become HGV drivers or baristas. But our flexible labour market should allow swift matching for many. As for the ongoing supply chain issues, we are far from Soviet-era bread shortages with the corresponding rationing.

This is not to deny a problem exists, but nor will Christmas dinner without pigs-in-blankets grind our economy to a halt. And it is a global issue, a predictable consequence of lockdowns and we’ve had an economic rebound far swifter than many foresaw.

Misery may sell newspapers, but after 18 months of stop-start-stop lockdown restrictions, perhaps the message should be that human ingenuity and the power of private enterprise have helped prevent economic collapse – indeed the vaccination can be seen to be, in many ways, a victory for capitalism.

While catastrophising may give some of us sleepless nights, it can do something far worse to politicians. Certainly, concern for the future of our planet is natural and worthy. We should consider ways in which behaviours can be adjusted to mitigate certain risks. But climate alarmism has left policymakers itching to do something and, partly as a result, our energy market has become an unholy mess.

We are now heading into COP26 against a backdrop of spiralling energy prices and accusations that government isn’t being honest with the public over the cost of Net Zero. The Chancellor himself admitted at Conservative Party Conference “You can’t put a figure on it”.

But insisting that our country is going to go to hell in a handcart leads to bad policy and forgets one crucial thing: the ingenuity of businesses and individuals to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

If we’ve learned anything from the past year and half, it’s that we have the capacity to overcome adversity – from scientists who speedily devised a vaccine that will likely save millions of lives, to supermarkets that corrected their disrupted supply chains in record time, to small business owners who adjusted their business models to survive lockdown.

While I’m not quite advocating the bombastic, it’ll-be-alright-on-the-night attitude of our Prime Minister, let’s stop panicking. The world isn’t going to end – even if we do end up having to swap our turkey for chicken come December.

© Emily Carver / Conservative Home, 2021

Emily Carver is Media Manager at the Institute of Economic Affairs.


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