30th June 2021

The real-world impact of the driver shortage

There has been a driver shortage in the UK for some time, but the combination of challenges brought about by Brexit and Covid-19 has made the situation more urgent.

The industry is currently experiencing a shortage of 22,000 drivers, and this figure could rise to 50,000 without action. Covid saw the cancellation of almost 5,000 HGV tests - costing £180,000 in 2020, leaving these potential new drivers unable to work.

Meanwhile, drivers are no longer considered skilled workers due to the changes in immigration rules post-Brexit - meaning European drivers cant help to cover the gap, even in the short term. Reports suggest that this will increase transport costs by 15-20%.

The rise in online delivery, which was already growing, spiked to unprecedented levels during the lockdowns and has yet to reduce to manageable levels. With increasing demand and a significant reduction in drivers, there has been pressure on the Government to take action. There have even been suggestions that the army is required to help maintain supplies. The demand for drivers is impacting hourly rates. Metro Shipping says rates are increasing by between 10% and 30% depending on circumstances - a cost that will increase the rates to the customer.

But what does this all mean for the average person? At what point will the general public notice the real-world impact of the driver shortage, and how will it be felt?

Wasted food

There are not enough drivers to keep up with supermarket deliveries, and the impact is already evident. In June 2021, news reports indicated that suppliers are delaying or cancelling thousands of loads each week because of the lack of drivers to transport the goods. As a result, the shelf life of products is becoming endangered. Tesco is scrapping 50 tonnes of fresh food each week.


There is more potential difficulty to come in October. At this point, the Brexit customs check grace period will end, meaning increased delays and issues with getting some products into the UK. Coupled with the driver shortfall, this could result in shortages of some items.

Impact on consumers

The supply issues are not exclusive to food products and could harm consumers, who could begin to see shortages across a broad range of industries if things remain the same.

As shops and wholesalers respond to the situation, the result is likely to be reductions in the product lines available for sale as they try to limit the range of products in stock and choose to focus on key products.

As supply numbers fall, it is likely prices will also increase to reflect demand.

Construction slowdown

As the UK moves out of a year of lockdowns, the construction industry is experiencing huge demand. The demand has seen activity reaching a seven-year high. However, due to the shortage of materials like bagged cement and electricals, prices are increasing, and project activity is pausing. The National Federation of Roofing Contractors said the increased demand and lack of supply had significantly affected both cost and productivity in the UK sector. Reduced availability of drivers in the haulage sector is likely to exacerbate the problem further. 


The UK construction industry has recovered well since March, but supply issues are likely to be an issue for the rest of 2021. As the increased demand for materials is occurring worldwide, the ongoing supply issues begin to have a financial impact on smaller construction firms that cannot afford delays. Not only will the materials cost more, but with a lack of drivers to deliver them, further expenses and delays could impact the progress of projects that are essential to a small company’s financial security.

How did we get here?

In January, SNAP published the article The UK truck driver shortage in 2021. While the situation has become more acute since then, many of the reasons for the driver shortage remain:

A lack of new drivers

The restricted opportunities to complete HGV training during lockdown has slowed recruitment rates, but truck driving is still not considered a career path by many younger people. The lack of new drivers is particularly true with women, who make up just 20% of the workforce in the transport industry and only 1% of truck drivers.

Retirement of older drivers

With just 1% of UK truck drivers aged under 25 and the average being closer to 50, a natural reduction in numbers will occur as the workforce reaches retirement age faster than recruits are joining.


Drivers leaving the industry

Frustration with pay and conditions has resulted in many drivers deciding to leave the industry entirely.

What can be done to resolve the driver shortage?

SNAP believes that the key to resolving the driver shortage will come through a range of measures, but vital to these are those elements that support drivers through funding, training and improving working conditions.

Truck driver training is expensive. So, it is crucial for the industry future that new drivers are not put off by the financial costs of the required training and licences. Apprenticeships need to provide an affordable platform to introduce younger generations into the sector. 

Test delays mean that there are people who want to drive but are unable to. Rearranging these tests should be a high priority. In the interim, the Government should make it possible to hire EU drivers to help fill vacancies during this crucial time for the industry.

Emma Westwood, Commercial Manager at SNAP says, “Measures that maximise a driver’s allowed working hours are an unsustainable short term solution that does little other than paper over the cracks and shows a lack of respect to the people involved in this logistical challenge.

“Ultimately, the way to bring drivers into the industry is to improve conditions. We can do this by providing high-quality truck stop facilities and secure parking as well as improved wages.”

While there are challenges to overcome, truck driving and the haulage industry are vital jobs for streamlining businesses and helping the nation. Resolving the driver shortage will take time, but it is possible if haulage becomes an attractive career path for the next generation.

Find out more about the pros and cons of being a truck driver in 2021, or read about truck driving as a career here.

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