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Updated: Jan 23, 2023

What this means for us at home and as a community

The UK’s recent fuel supply problem became a major headache for many citizens, especially those of us who depend on motor vehicles for our livelihoods. However, even those who do not depend on petrol for their living have had to deal with endless queues and shortages in petrol stations which have, in many instances, gone out of hand. Yet it is the damage to our collective psyche which has probably dealt the heaviest of blows, the fuel supply shortage has meant another frustration compiling an already weakened mental state following coronavirus lockdowns and Brexit shenanigans. When is life going to return back to ‘normal’?

Most of us understand why the fuel supply problem has come to be, with traditional media outlets informing the bulk of us on shortages of thousands of drivers as the main precursor to a thinning in the supply of fuel coupled with a collective panic which stretched local petrol stations to a breaking point. As to drivers, many factors have been singled out; work conditions which include long hours and low pay adding to an already low esteem towards the job which means drivers don’t exactly ‘puff out their chest’ when jumping into a cab. Work conditions are essential to ones’ livelihood, especially when family is involved. Yet I argue that it is our collective attitude towards menial jobs which has triggered this crisis: let’s not forget the 2008 lorry driver trope involving Jeremy Clarkson’s drive, drive and “murder a prostitute” which rightly landed him in hot water. It’s not only the ex-BBC’s presenter’s personal opinion though, it’s shameful that many of us actually agree that working as a lorry driver is not okay. We are blind by deeming such a vital service as getting much needed supplies from A to B as ‘cheap labour’, work for the uneducated or ‘unwashed masses’, and leaving foreigners to do our dirty work. Now we know what happens when we tell them to leave. It’s no secret that most lorry drivers servicing our petrol stations were of European origin, with very few locals willing to dedicate their lives to a job with such poor perception and remuneration.

Many say that Brexit is a factor, as if this had nothing to do with our collective responsibility - an RHA poll indicated that 58% of HGV drivers who left the country did so because of Brexit - but before you roll your eyes with a ‘here we go again’, I would argue that it isn’t so much the political situation which has ushered out thousands of drivers from our land but our own attitude towards a job which has made us dependent on others to carry out a service we so sorely need. Without these others to do our dirty work, shortages happen. Shouldn’t it be time we reconsider our priorities?

The crisis as a whole, however, isn’t only a domestic issue, as the supply shortage issue has been compounded by pricier carbon credits, which help to tackle climate change, and a hike in fuel price, with Brent crude oil jumping in the last year to levels not seen since late 2018.

This is a big deal, if you drive a car you must have already felt the pinch in your already stretched pocket. This also means that suppliers who are already reeling from Brexit and Covid and which historically operate on low margins of around 3% are finding themselves hit by the double whammy of increased running costs in both machinery and men. The fact the government’s solution to the manpower shortage is to ‘entice’ European drivers to come to the UK for 6 months to then be unceremoniously booted out is laughable at best, let’s hope the government realizes that continental goodwill has been spread very thin and actually does something to improve working conditions. Spare a thought to those managers trying to recruit drivers at a wage which won’t bust their business, though it’s probably for the best that drivers actually become valued for their labour and get paid what they’re worth. Maybe then will British nationals actually decide that it’s a job they wouldn’t mind doing after all.

What can we expect for the future? Well, without delving into the deepening energy crisis, we can expect more sectors which were propped up by foreign labour to suffer the most from the current situation. First sector which comes to mind for many is hospitality. And sure, many ‘big shots’ will shrug at the thought of a weakened hospitality sector yet how can ‘big’ businesses such as banking, finance and insurance which require large doses of trust build meaningful partnerships abroad without the infrastructure which allows foreign bosses and managers to actually stay in the country for a few nights when most hotels are understaffed? If the online revolution means business can be solely conducted online then what is the point of London anyway? Without hotel workers, baristas or maintenance which is majorly staffed by Europeans who is going to actually fulfil such important yet much undesired roles? And let’s not dive down the rabbit hole which is the primary sector, everyone knows that those who pick our ‘great British’ veggies are, in a large part, foreign temporary workers.

We can view the fuel supply issue as a crisis in of itself, a bump in the road, or a symptom of a much larger trend. As a trend it could well be another symptom of an illness which will mean more suffering for the British public which bears the brunt of our mismanaged economy and society. Yet we can blame the politicians as much as we want, it will come to nothing unless we start re-evaluating and actually start appreciating the importance of the jobs which to many, have seemed menial. This has been going on for too long and we are suffering the consequences of it. Time for a rethink, if you see a lorry driver resting at a station, you’ll do well in showing your appreciation.

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