A shortage of hauliers and associated issues with logistics have led to some businesses reporting difficulties importing and exporting and may be leading to some consumers reporting not being able to find certain items in shops.

There has been a general decline in the number of heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers, officially known as large goods vehicle (LGV) drivers, working in the UK for the past four years. Most of that decline has been in the previous two years, particularly during the coronavirus pandemic.

An estimated 268,000 people were employed as HGV drivers between July 2020 and June 2021. This is 39,000 fewer than the year ending June 2019 and 53,000 fewer than the peak for HGV driver employment, during the year ending June 2017 (321,000).

There has been a fall in the number of UK nationals employed as HGV drivers since the year ending June 2017. The number of EU nationals employed as HGV drivers increased between 2017 and 2020, but then decreased during the coronavirus pandemic.

The number of HGV drivers has generally declined since July 2016 to June 2017. The largest decline over the four years was among those aged 46 to 55 years.

There were 52,000 vacancies for posts in transport and storage in the three months ending September 2021, which is the highest since records began in 2001. HGV drivers make up around 10% of the transport and storage industry, which also includes rail and sea transport as well as road transport occupations such as taxi drivers and bus drivers.

The number of people employed as HGV drivers in any industry has fallen by 53,000 in four years

Number of heavy goods vehicle drivers in employment by nationality, January 2016 to June 2021, UK, not seasonally adjusted

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Notes:
  1. All data in this table are on a SOC 2010 basis. SOC 2020 was introduced in January 2021, so the data for periods prior to December 2020 are collected on a SOC 2010 basis, while the data from January 2021 are collected on a SOC 2020 basis and mapped to SOC 2010 codes. This may result in some inconsistencies with previous estimates.

Download data for the number of HGV drivers in employment by nationality (XLSX, 12KB)

Throughout this article, we have used the Annual Population Survey because it is based on a larger sample and has a lower margin of error when analysing occupations data than the Labour Force Survey. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) does not recommend the use of the Labour Force Survey for this type of analysis because of small sample sizes and insufficient quality. For context, when comparing the quarters April-June 2017 with April-June 2021, the Labour Force Survey shows a fall of 68,000 across four years.

The Annual Population Survey shows there has been a net fall of 42,000 UK nationals employed as HGV drivers since the year ending June 2017, with 237,000 employed in the year ending June 2021. There were 15% fewer UK nationals working as HGV drivers in the year ending June 2021 than there were four years earlier.

The decrease was greatest during the coronavirus pandemic, with 26,000 (10%) fewer UK nationals employed as HGV drivers in the year ending June 2021 than in the year ending June 2019 (263,000).

There were 28,000 EU nationals working as HGV drivers in the year ending June 2021, which is 12,000 (30%) fewer than the year ending June 2017.

While the number of EU nationals employed as HGV drivers saw a small increase from just under 40,000 in the year ending June 2017 to 43,000 in the year ending March 2020, the number has subsequently decreased during the coronavirus pandemic.

In the year July 2020 to June 2021, 88% of HGV drivers were UK nationals, 10% were EU nationals and the remainder non-EU nationals.

In the last four years, the age group 46 to 55 years has seen the largest decline in HGV drivers

Number of heavy goods vehicle drivers in employment by age group, January 2016 to June 2021, UK, not seasonally adjusted, thousands

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Notes:
  1. All data in this table are on a SOC 2010 basis. SOC 2020 was introduced in January 2021, so the data for periods prior to December 2020 are collected on a SOC 2010 basis, while the data from January 2021 are collected on a SOC 2020 basis and mapped to SOC 2010 codes. This may result in some inconsistencies with previous estimates.

Download data for the number of HGV drivers in employment by age group (XLSX, 11KB)

HGV drivers in the age group 46 to 55 years have seen the largest decline in the previous four years, falling almost 34,000 (29%) from between July 2016 to June 2017 and July 2020 to June 2021. The age group 56 to 65 years has fluctuated over the same four years, with a small fall of around 1,000 (2%).

The number of younger HGV drivers has also fallen. Between 2018 and 2019, the number of HGV drivers aged up to 35 years had generally been increasing and reached a peak of more than 68,000 in the year ending December 2019, before decreasing again.

By the year ending June 2021, there were around 52,000 HGV drivers aged up to 35 years, which was nearly 4,000 (7%) fewer than in the year ending June 2017.

A larger proportion of HGV drivers come from older age groups than the total working population

Percentage of workforce by age group, July 2020 to June 2021, heavy goods vehicle drivers and total UK, not seasonally adjusted

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The HGV driver workforce is older than the average across the total employed population. Between July 2020 and June 2021, 29% of HGV drivers were over ages 56 years or older, compared with 19% for the overall employed population.

Just under 20% of HGV drivers were aged 16 to 35 years. This was lower than the average for the total working population, 36%.

The number of driving tests during the first year of the coronavirus pandemic was the lowest for more than a decade

Practical large goods vehicle vocational tests (C, C1, C+E and C1+E licences), Great Britain, monthly, from April 2007 to June 2021

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Most driving tests were suspended between March and July 2020 and again between January and April 2021 because of lockdown restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic.

There were 16,022 practical driving tests passed of the type required to become an HGV driver in the year ending March 2021, according to data from the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) and the Department for Transport (DfT).

This compares with an average of 41,731 large goods vehicle (LGV) practical test passes a year during the previous five-year period. It was the lowest since current records began in the year ending 31 March 2008.

The pass rate in the year ending March 2021 was 58% compared with 59% the year before.

In June 2021 there were 7,252 tests taken, the highest since March 2017, according to DVSA and DfT monthly data.

HGV drivers worked an average of 48 hours a week in 2019, which was largely unchanged since 2005, according to provisional data from the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings. Average paid hours for the overall workforce were much lower at 33 hours in 2019. In 2020, during the coronavirus pandemic, the average for HGV drivers fell to 46 hours a week.

HGV drivers earned an average (mean) of £12.25 per hour in 2020. This was similar to bus and coach drivers (£12.28), but more than van drivers (£10.51). The average pay for all occupations was £17.57 an hour. Until the coronavirus pandemic, average hourly pay for HGV drivers had been rising either in line with or slightly above inflation since 2013. In 2020, average hourly pay for HGV drivers decreased by 1.6%, but this is likely to have been affected by lockdown restrictions and furloughed workers.

Vacancies in transport and storage are their highest on record and up 56% on the previous quarter

Growth in vacancies within the transport and storage industry compared with vacancies across all industries. Index, Jan to March 2020=100, Jan 2020 to Sept 2021, UK

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While HGV drivers represent around 10% of the transport and storage industry, more than half (57%) of all HGV drivers are employed within this industry.

There were 52,000 vacancies in transport and storage during the three-month period July to September 2021, the highest on record. This is 49% up on the January to March 2020 pre-coronavirus level, and 56% up on the previous quarter, April to June 2021.

The transport and storage industry is not alone in having high numbers of jobs to fill. Vacancies across all industries remain at record levels, with more than 1.1 million between July and September 2021. This is 40% higher than the January to March 2020 pre-coronavirus level.

Around one in eight businesses across all industries reported vacancies were more difficult to fill in the month to the end of September 2021 compared with normal expectations for the time of year.

These included 29% of businesses in the other service activities industry, 27% in accommodation and food service activities and 24% in human health and social work activities.

A lack of hauliers has caused challenges, but more businesses reported other issues importing and exporting

Percentage of all businesses currently trading, who reported they had exported or imported in the last year, and reported how their exports or imports were affected, weighted by count, 6th to 19th September 2021

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Notes:
  1. Caution should be taken when interpreting these results based on the specific routing of this question meaning that only a small number of businesses responded.
  2. Businesses were asked for their experiences for the reference period for each wave, however, for questions regarding the last two weeks, businesses may respond from the point of completion of the questionnaire.

Download the data for businesses reporting how exports and imports were affected (XLSX, 17KB)

Of currently trading businesses, 9% had exported and 9% imported in the last 12 months and reported how their exporting or importing compared with normal expectations for this time of year. These businesses were asked about the challenges they had experienced with exporting or importing in the previous two weeks.

Around 22% of businesses reported challenges importing in early to mid-September 2021, because of a lack of hauliers or logistics equipment and 10% reported challenges exporting for the same reason.

However, a larger percentage of businesses reported other challenges.

Additional paperwork was a challenge to importing for 41% of currently trading businesses who reported how importing had been affected. It was also a challenge to exporting for 35% of currently trading businesses who reported how exporting had been affected.

A change in wider transportation costs was also a challenge to importing for 48% of currently trading businesses who reported how importing had been affected and 31% of currently trading businesses who reported how exporting had been affected.

Nearly a third of people were finding it difficult to get groceries, medication or other essentials

The proportion of adults in Great Britain reporting that either groceries, medication or other essentials were not available has been rising steadily since August 2021 and stood at 29% in the period 22 September to 3 October 2021.

The shortage of HGV drivers may have been impacting the increase in adults reporting difficulties finding certain items, but this may not be the only possible cause.

1 in 7 people reported not being able to buy fuel during the two weeks to 3 October 2021

Percentage of adults reporting they had not been able to buy fuel because it was not available during the period 22 September to 3 October 2021, by country and region, Great Britain

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Between 22 September and 3 October 2021, 15% of adults in Great Britain reported not being able to buy fuel because it was not available. This was up from 4% between 8 and 19 September. The percentage reporting not being able to buy fuel was highest in the East of England (23%) and lowest in Scotland (6%).

The two-week period saw some consumers fill up their tanks before they needed to, which affected supplies on petrol station forecourts.

In the same two weeks, 17% of adults said they had not been able to buy essential food items, 23% said they could not find other food items and 3% were not able to buy medicine.

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