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Falling numbers of middle-aged and EU truck drivers contributed to more than 50,000 people leaving the job over the past four years in the UK, creating the most acute shortage on record and disrupting businesses.

HGV drivers in the UK peaked in the year ending June 2017, at an estimated 321,000. Since then, the total has declined by 53,000, the Office for National Statistics said on Tuesday, a 16 per cent decline.

The number of drivers aged 46 to 54 years old has since dropped 39 per cent, or 34,000, the largest decline of any age group. Over the same period, EU truck driver numbers fell 30 per cent, or by 12,000 people.

The drop is likely to persist as few new drivers are entering the profession. In the year ending June 2021, 16,022 HGV driving tests were passed, a drop from an average of 41,731 a year during the previous five-year period.

The fall in driver numbers has come as demand for goods has increased, and as the economy has reopened and ecommerce has taken off, resulting in soaring numbers of job vacancies.

There were 52,000 vacancies in transport and storage during the three-month period July to September, the highest on record. HGV drivers account for about a tenth of those employed in this industry.

The ONS reported that more than one in five UK businesses said that lack of hauliers or logistics equipment was a challenge. Nearly a third of consumers were finding it difficult to get groceries, medication or other essentials.

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