Rural watchdog highlights need to tackle poverty amongst farming households
A quarter of farming households live below the official poverty line, receiving relatively little support either from agricultural policies or the welfare state. To help address the situation the Commission for Rural Communities is today publishing ‘Poverty amongst farming households: achieving sustainable livelihoods’ identifying the root causes of poverty amongst farming households and setting out what government needs to do to recognise and address the situation.
Dr. Stuart Burgess, Chairman of the Commission for Rural Communities said: “There is tremendous variety within farming in this country. While many farming households have successfully increased production, resilience and farm incomes, one in four are living in poverty. A quarter of farming households have an income of less than £20,000 and in the majority of cases this derives from capitalising on the business assets rather than actual farm business profits. These struggling farms are likely to have grazing livestock and be located in upland areas. Many are left trapped in poverty without the resources or support to earn a living wage.
“For the majority of farming households the ability to diversify production and earn income off-farm is essential to subsidise their traditional farming livelihood. Overall nearly two out of three farms have some form of off-farm income, and in 2008/09 the total income from diversified activities was £300 million. While many farmers have proved to be highly entrepreneurial, some do not have the skills or opportunity to diversify into new businesses. Tenant farmers can experience specific barriers to business development due to the fact that they do not own the land that they farm. They often find it difficult to access investment capital and tenancy agreements can prohibit certain business activities to avoid tax and inheritance implications for the landowner. Planning regulations can also be a barrier for those wanting to change the use of farm buildings to diversify their incomes. The coalition government’s ‘Homes on the Farm’ scheme, which encourages farmers to convert existing buildings into affordable housing, is a helpful intervention on this particular challenge.
“Because of business failure, retirement or ill health some farmers have no choice but to leave farming. However, inadequate pension provision and a lack of alternative affordable housing can make this difficult. Furthermore, the sale of assets to fund retirement can undermine the viability of a family farm for a successor.
“In times of difficulty, farmers, like any resident, can claim benefits but it can be difficult for them to provide the necessary evidence to access the benefits to which they are entitled. For example, it can be difficult for tenant farmers to access housing benefits because tenancy agreements may not separate rental costs for the farmhouse and the land.
Dr, Burgess concluded: “Tackling poverty amongst farming households is long overdue. The government should actively promote farm business support and the take-up of income related benefits to eligible farming households.”
Full and headline versions of the report ‘Poverty amongst farming households: achieving sustainable livelihoods’ can be downloaded at: http://www.ruralcommunities.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/farming_poverty.pdf