Rural Issues in the Election

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Rural issues are never very high on the agenda in a general election but with Brexit on the horizon the farming community is keen to know the future of the Common Agricultural Policy and the Rural Development Programme of the European Union. Commonly called “subsidies” the Basic Farm Payment (BPS) helps farmers both produce food and shape the landscape of the countryside.  Last year over half of all farmers would have made no profit had it not been for the BPS.

The complicated interplay between business and family income in the farming budget means that when profits are low both the business and the household income suffers. Weather conditions, swinging commodity prices and changing trade rules all take a toll. It is estimated that around 25% of all farmers take home less than the minimum wage to pay their domestic bills; in some cases farming households are using foodbanks!  The Farming Community Network works with farmers to respond to these challenges, particularly through promoting mental and emotional wellbeing.

Each of the main party manifestos make pledges to support rural communities.  The Labour party manifesto accuses the government of “chronic underinvestment in transport, broadband and public services including the closure of local schools, post office and libraries”, summing up the key issues facing rural communities. The Conservative manifesto promises to “bring sustainable growth to the rural economy and boost our rural areas”. The party has also promised to maintain the current levels of support for farmers until the end of the next Parliament but, like all the other parties, they will be looking to revise how and to whom the payments are made.   The Liberal Democrats say they “understand the changes needed to support a living working countryside”.  The rural economy and access to rural services increasingly revolves around the provision of effective Broadband and this is recognised. Investment and roll out of broadband to rural areas is long overdue.

Whichever party takes power, the need to champion community development to build sustainable, and cohesive rural communities is paramount. It also seems right that the poorer, less profitable farming enterprises should get the most support.

It is also essential that a new government should consider environmental issues as integral to rural life.  Rural dwellers today drive more miles on average than town dwellers, housing stock is often more dependent on fossil fuel based heating (and fall more easily into fuel poverty) and it will be important to ensure that farming practices work to protect the environment

Action with Communities in Rural England (ACRE) has produced some “asks” of the next Government to enable England’s rural communities to thrive. The central theme of their proposal is the need to take “steps to free up the potential of rural communities by building on the factors that strengthen their resilience.”  Their asks include Housing and Planning, Community Buildings, Health, Schools, Broadband, developing local know how and developing well evidenced data about rural areas.

This election I will be looking for a government who will pay attention to rural needs, listen to those with the experience and knowledge of what ‘rural’ means in the 21st century, and who will give permission to local people to work together to build thriving communities and a resilient productive agriculture.

Glyn Evans
Diocesan rural officer in the Mission in the World Team

The Farming Community Network
NFU Manifesto for the General Election
ACRE: Rural Communities at the Heart of Government Policy ACRE’s General Election Asks 2017