Britain’s curry houses demand more government help

The UK’s largest representative for curry restaurant and takeaways is calling for more support from the government amid worsening staffing shortages.

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The leader of the UK’s largest curry organisation has presented a list of demands to Britain’s political parties this general election, warning that new visa rules introduced in April have worsened an already crippling staffing crisis.

Earlier this year, the government raised the skilled worker salary threshold for migrant workers to £38,700 per year, up from £26,200.

Decrying the change as “impossible for any small business”, Oli Khan MBE, president of Bangladesh Caterers Association (BCA), which represents 12,000 UK curry houses, has called on whichever party wins the election next month to provide greater aid to the sector.

Khan said the group had so far “not seen any political party recognise our value”, adding “our industry must make its concerns known to politicians of all parties.”

Curry worries

Curry restaurants are today viewed as a British institution; as much a staple on the high street as the traditional pub.

But the Friday takeaway favourite has struggled under a series of challenges since the pandemic, and the new skilled worker salary threshold has exacerbated these.

As a result, the beloved British curry house is starting to disappear. In 2007, 12,000 Indian restaurants were open across the UK. Last year, the number had dropped to just 8,500.

Khan is blaming tightened laws on hiring from abroad. More than 80% of the Indian restaurants in the UK are estimated to be run by Bangladeshis, and many rely on their countrymen to plug labour gaps as waiters and chefs.

However, the new minimum salary threshold of £38,700 has made this wage untenable for most employers. Average pay in restaurants tends to be the National Living Wage, which means most curry houses will not be able to hire migrant workers.

Raising this market rate will not be an option for businesses already struggling under diminished profit margins. In a recent business survey, one in five hospitality firms said they would be unable to meet employee pay expectations this year.

Brexit has “curtailed” access to staff

Staffing woes for Britain’s curry houses have been compounded by preexisting recruitment difficulties caused by Brexit. Pre-Brexit, European workers constituted much of the industry’s workforce, but the end of free movement caused mass hiring issues for UK employers.

Alongside a review of the skilled worker entry requirements, Khan has called for “immediate initiatives that give us greater access to hospitality staff as Brexit has curtailed access.”

Khan has his own suggestion of how to replace the lost resource. He says the BCA is asking the government to invest directly in apprenticeship schemes to “nurture the next generation of curry chefs, creating more jobs and further upskilling the workforce”.

Earlier this year, the government announced it would fund 100% of apprenticeship training costs for businesses, and allow large employers who pay into the Apprenticeship Levy to pass more costs onto SMEs.

However, last month, the CIPD warned that employers were investing in training for existing staff as apprenticeships, rather than pay into the levy. As a result, the number of apprenticeship starts has fallen since the introduction of the Apprentice Levy back in 2017.

Who can curry favour in the election?

The BCA has also requested that the newly-elected government take immediate action to lower the tax burden on the curry industry.

Both parties have pledged to do so by reducing the burden of paying business rates. Last month, the Conservatives unveiled a £4.3bn business rates support package to help small high street businesses with the bills.

Labour, the party which is currently winning the polls, went one step further. Its manifesto declares an intention to scrap business rates and “replace it with a system that is fairer for bricks and mortar businesses”.

The party has also pledged to review the skilled worker visa thresholds if it wins the election on July 3. But it has stopped short of publishing an official policy change.

“We need to see all political parties recognise our sector’s significance and contribution to gross domestic product and employment,” says Khan.

“We need to see the real evidence of measures that can unlock the potential of our industry to do more and put us back to where we were in 2019.”

Written by:
Helena Young
Helena is Lead Writer at Startups. As resident people and premises expert, she's an authority on topics such as business energy, office and coworking spaces, and project management software. With a background in PR and marketing, Helena also manages the Startups 100 Index and is passionate about giving early-stage startups a platform to boost their brands. From interviewing Wetherspoon's boss Tim Martin to spotting data-led working from home trends, her insight has been featured by major trade publications including the ICAEW, and news outlets like the BBC, ITV News, Daily Express, and HuffPost UK.

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