HK emigrants face cold winter, inflation and shortages in UK

October 21, 2021 06:00
Photo: Reuters

During the spring and summer, tens of thousands of Hong Kong people moved to Britain, excited to start a new life away from the National Security Law and “patriotic education”.

But, as the days get shorter, they find themselves facing a cold winter of shortages and rising prices for food and energy.

Since Britain allowed holders here of British National Overseas (BNO) passports to emigrate, more than 47,000 have had their applications approved. Most are families with children of school age.

A recent survey by Hongkongers in Britain found that 88 per cent of the migrants had a degree of undergraduate or master’s level and 69.4 per cent felt financially secure through selling or renting out property here.

It also found that, as of the end of August, only 18.5 per cent had found full-time work with an employer and nearly half were unemployed.

They find themselves in a country suffering from inflation, shortages of goods and high unemployment, as a result of the Covid-19 epidemic and the decision to leave the European Union. Prices are rising faster than wages; the living standards of many people are falling.

The Office for National Statistics said that, in August, the consumer prices index rose to 3.2 per cent, up from two per cent in July. The increase of 1.2 percentage point between July and August was the largest since records began in January 1997.

Britain is short of 100,000 truck drivers, mainly because those from the European Union do not wish to come because of complex border checks and long waiting times as a result of Brexit. This has led to shortages of goods in the shops. Families may not be able to buy the toys, sweets and turkeys they normally enjoy at Christmas.

The price of meat is going up because of a lack of workers. The British Meat Processors Association said last week that, since Brexit and the pandemic, labour shortages had worsened.

"Industries are now competing with each other for a dwindling pool of workers. The labour crisis has seen workers in strategically important sectors like food manufacture and social care being enticed away by other sectors that can afford to hike wages 20 per cent or 30 per cent. Every employer, including the public sector, may have to follow suit, but it will mean consumer price inflation,” it said.

Since September, Britain has suffered from petrol shortages, because of the absence of tanker drivers to resupply petrol stations. In early October, about 20 per cent of petrol stations in London and southeast England had no fuel. The government has mobilised 200 soldiers to transport oil to the stations.

This shortage hits badly those Hong Kong people who have bought or rented homes in rural areas or suburbs of cities. These areas have poor public transport; residents have to rely on private cars for their daily lives.

Migrants who have just arrived find a wealth of information on YouTube, in podcasts made by their Hong Kong compatriots, with details on many aspects of their new country.

Many praise the larger size of their home, greater green space and more relaxed school environment for their children, who can participate in more sports, arts, music and community affairs than in Hong Kong; they have less homework and “stuffed duck education”.

But there are many negatives – the weather, especially during winter; British food, with too much bread, pizza, sandwiches and tastes so much blander than at home; lack of Filipino and Indonesian maids – live-in servants are a luxury for the very rich; social life built around alcohol; and a work culture to which they are unaccustomed.

The many job shortages created by the departure of thousands of EU citizens mean an upside for the Hong Kong arrivals – many vacancies in coffee shops, fast food outlets and restaurants, food packaging, nursing and social care, manual work in farms, factories and warehouses, and truck-driving.

These jobs pay less and are not as sophisticated as those the migrants did in Hong Kong. But, according to the survey by Hongkongers in Britain, the vast majority of migrants know that they will have to change industry and accept a less well-paid job. They are willing to move to sectors that need labour and use the experience to improve their English, learn new job skills and help their integration into their new country.

They did not expect to find themselves in a country with such shortages and inefficiencies. But they do not complain. They have made their choice and must live with the consequences of it.

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A Hong Kong-based writer, teacher and speaker.