It was JFK who said “The farmer is the only man in our economy who has to buy everything he buys at retail – sell everything he sells at wholesale – and pay the freight both ways.”
I cannot remember what I was doing when JFK died, but I remember this comment. It came to mind when someone sent me the link to this article. http://modernfarmer.com/2013/11/farmworker-confessional/
‘Farmer Confessional, I’m an undocumented farm worker.’
In the UK we do things differently. In food production our cheap labour is largely home bred. In the late 1990s I can remember sitting down and working out that I’d worked the previous year for 9p an hour. But agriculture is like that, I’ve had years when I’ve actually paid so much an hour for the privilege of working. But then I’m sure that a lot of self employed small business owners will tell you the same. But Tesco who sells what we produce insists on a 6% profit margin.
In recent years I’ve helped with ‘Farming Community Network’, it used to be Farm Crisis Network’ and it’s meant that I’ve gone onto farms to see what could be done to help people who’re in a serious mess. Whether it’s their physical and mental health, financial problems, animal health or government induced nightmare, we try to walk beside them and help.
A few weeks ago I had to read a report; it was ‘Walking the breadline, the scandal of food poverty in 21st century Britain.’ It’s produced by Oxfam and Church action on Poverty. I gave up half way through; I found I couldn’t see past those blighted lives, families scarred by illness, deprivation and poverty. These two august organisations were getting really wound up about the effects of food price increases on the urban poor but how many people gave a damn about the effects of poverty on the lives of those who produced the food?
Now to be fair to both Oxfam and Church Action on Poverty, whilst it was their report that wound me up, that was my problem, not theirs, both organisations have done good work in rural areas in this country as well.
More many years we’ve had a situation where our economy depended on falling food prices as a proportion of income. As a rule of thumb, for much of the 20th century the current generation could eat organic food and pay a smaller proportion of their income for food than their parents generation would do eating conventional food. This was based on technological advances and the use of cheap labour. Unfortunately for some; the technological advances have slowed (because who in their right mind makes major investment in a sector where the income is falling every year) and the labour isn’t so cheap any more. Odilia Chavez, the undocumented farm worker in the article, is hard working, skilled and flexible. As our economy stagnates, as our population becomes relatively less well educated compared to the rest of the world, less hard working, skilled and flexible, then we’re going to have to pay more to get Odilia Chavez and her like to come and do these jobs for us.
But in this country we’re seeing an apartheid slowly forming. We’re getting two classes of people. I saw this in today’s paper.
“Private-sector workers could see their final salary pensions “eaten away” by the rising of cost of living after ministers proposed removing legal protections against inflation from “gold-plated” retirement funds.
Almost two million employees who are still part of final salary schemes could lose the legal right to have their retirement income rise in line with inflation under the proposals.
The change, which would not apply to public sector workers, could cut the spending power of a pension by almost a third over a 15-year retirement.
Workers could also be forced to wait longer before drawing their pension because companies would be allowed to delay workers’ retirement in an effort to save money.
Additional benefits such as survivors’ rights, which pay an income to widows and widowers, could also be lost.”
Now this doesn’t impact on me too much, I’ve never put a lot of money into pension funds, when you don’t pay much tax it isn’t a good investment. I’m not really expecting to retire.
But then the paper went on to comment.
“The changes could also widen the gap between public and private sector workers. That divide has led some critics to talk of a “pensions apartheid” between the two groups.
Protections such as inflation-proofing will continue to apply to the 5.1 million state employees who are in line to receive final salary retirement incomes. That is because ministers promised that recent changes to public sector pension terms would be the last for 25 years, giving state employees “a settlement for a generation”.
By contrast, private sector workers have endured repeated changes to pension rules and tax raids on their retirement funds.”
We’re getting two groups, the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ and it isn’t healthy in any society.
Then what do I know? Ask an expert
A collection of anecdotes, it’s the distillation of a lifetime’s experience of peasant agriculture in the North of England. I’d like to say ‘All human life is here,’ but frankly there’s more about Border Collies, Cattle and Sheep.
As a reviewer commented, “
This is a delightful collection of gentle rants and witty reminiscences about life in a quiet corner of South Cumbria. Lots of sheep, cattle and collie dogs, but also wisdom, poetic insight, and humour. It was James Herriot who told us that ‘It Shouldn’t Happen to a Vet’ but Jim Webster beautifully demonstrates that it usually happened to the farmer too, but far less money changed hands.
I, for one, am hoping that this short collection of blogs finds a wide and generous audience – not least because I’m sure there’s more where this came from. And at 99p you can’t go wrong!”