A Conservative peer has suggested the unemployed could be transported to rural areas to pick crops in areas suffering a shortage of labour.
Baroness Buscombe said ‘several million people’ who could work should be encouraged to find jobs in areas such as Herefordshire where there are not enough pickers.
National Farmers Union leader Minette Batters said she would ‘absolutely support’ the proposal because the UK was increasingly relying on labour from as far afield as the Philippines to pick crops.
But British people had been ‘educated out of’ doing basic farm work with the result that farmers were finding it time-consuming and costly to fill vacancies, she added. Baroness Buscombe told the House of Lords Agricultural Committee: ‘We have several million people in this country at the moment who are capable of working who are unemployed and on benefits.
‘Surely it would be easier to move some of them for example, to Hereford, and cheaper, albeit on a seasonal basis, than to bring people from much further afield.’ Mrs Batters told her: ‘I would absolutely support that. I think the challenge though is really deep seated and cultural. We have, over many years, educated people out of not doing these domestic jobs, they simply do not want to do them.’
Mrs Batters said it could be made easier for people on Universal Credit to take seasonal jobs, as taking these roles currently means that they lose their benefits. Speaking of the recent shortages of vegetables in supermarkets, Mrs Batters said that greenhouses that should be growing vegetables were being ‘mothballed’ due to high energy costs.
As a result British agriculture would ‘see the lowest level of production of tomatoes and cucumbers since records began in 1985.’ She also criticised what she said was a lack of government support in the budget to help the horticulture sector with energy costs.