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British farmers want basic income to cope with post-Brexit struggles
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British farmers want basic income to cope with post-Brexit struggles

Farmers are calling for the government to grant them a universal basic income, saying the post-Brexit agriculture subsidy scheme has left many poorer.

Delays to the sustainable farming schemes put in place after the UK left the European Union, to replace the common agricultural policy (CAP), have meant that in England many farmers have been left out of pocket. The new regime initially suffered from low subscription rates, and the government has underspent hundreds of millions from the £2.4bn farming budget each year due to lack of sign-up.

Scotland and Wales have different farming schemes, and Northern Ireland has not yet set up its new scheme due to Stormont not having sat for two years. In Wales, there have been protests over plans to ask farmers to set aside 20% of their farms for nature and tree planting.

Government projections and independent analysis have shown that the new nature payments schemes will not plug the gap left by the lack of EU subsidies for most farmers. The nature schemes were never meant to replace the CAP payments exactly, and instead are aimed at paying farmers to provide public goods.

Now, at least 100 farmers have signed up to a new campaign group, BI4Farmers, to ask for a universal basic income (UBI) for all farmers in Britain.

The campaigners said that farmers across the UK were “basically kept afloat” by EU subsidies and now risk going out of business. Analysis by the organic farming group Riverford has found that half of farmers surveyed said they may go out of business due to post-Brexit trade deals, uncertainty over farming payment schemes and rising costs.

Jo Poulton, the BI4Farmers coordinator, said: “British farmers are overworked and underpaid but the Brexit process presents an ideal opportunity to change this.

“A basic income for farmers would guarantee an adequate income, improving access to time off and reasonable working hours and making entering a career in farming affordable for new entrants.”

Sustainable farming groups have also shared their support for a UBI for farmers to enable to them to experiment with nature friendly farming methods such as using fewer pesticides without sacrificing their income.

Will White, sustainable farming campaign coordinator at Sustain, said: “Universal basic income could be an important safety net for farm workers and small new entrant growers, providing financial security that liberates them to pursue agro-ecological practices without the looming pressure of financial survival.

“When paired with better funding for environmental land management schemes, UBI has the potential to significantly bolster the agricultural sector’s overall resilience. Looking into radical yet promising solutions like this is essential. We support a deeper exploration of how basic income policies could work in the UK context and are watching this campaign with interest.”

Ruth West, a cofounder of the Oxford Real Farming Conference, added: “Concerned citizens, farmers in dire straits, policymakers and all those who care about a fairer food system should get onboard and help move this practical, doable plan to the next phase.

“BI4Farmers presents us with a golden opportunity for a sustainable farming future. It’s an opportunity we must not miss.”

Source: theguardian.com