Farmers demand Universal Basic Income

As protests by farmers across the UK are stepped up, a group of farmers are demanding a Universal Basic Income (UBI) to provide financial security as the UK transitions away from the historic EU subsidy regime.

At least 100 farmers are involved in a new campaign group to lobby the government on the issue – BI4FARMERS – which is demanding a UBI for all farmers in Britain.

A basic income for farmers would be a regular, unconditional cash payment made directly to farmers and agricultural workers. In a new report released today (Thursday) by BI4Farmers and independent think tank Autonomy, farmers and farming groups across the UK say this would provide the financial security needed as Brexit represents a historic shift in state subsidies for farmers.

Many UK farms have depended on EU subsidies for decades and these are now in the process of being replaced by schemes delivered by the UK Government. However, independent and government projections show that these new schemes won’t cover the funding gaps left in this transition, leaving many small family farms on the brink of financial viability.

In Wales, Dover and other areas of the UK, farmers have been disrupting traffic by driving their tractors very slowly in protest against government plans to change how farming is funded.

Prior to leaving the EU, many UK farms were essentially kept afloat by EU farm payments. In 2019, the UK received approximately £4.7 billion in funding from the EU under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), introduced in 1962. 80 per cent of this money was provided through the Basic Payments Scheme (BPS): subsidies granted based upon the area of land kept suitable for grazing or under cultivation. Without these subsidies, between 19 per cent and 42 per cent of farms would have been unable to break even. The discontinuation of this support represents a source of severe uncertainty for many British farmers.

Alongside the funding issues, there has been a significant and growing problem in the low yield of new workers since Brexit which has caused a decline in the farming work force.

In Wales, the Welsh Government has already established an ongoing basic income pilot for care leavers.

Jo Poulton, 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.”

Will White, Sustainable Farming Campaign Coordinator at Sustain, said, “Universal Basic Income could be an important safety net for farmworkers and small new entrant growers, providing financial security that liberates them to pursue agroecological 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, Co-Founder of the Oxford Real Farming Conference, said, “Concerned citizens, farmers in dire straits, policymakers and all those who care about a fairer food system should get on board 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.”

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