When you go to the supermarket to buy your fresh produce, it will be accompanied by a label to indicate its country of origin. Many people in a display of patriotism and support for their local economy will automatically only buy produce with a Union Jack stamp on it. What they may not appreciate is that most of the workforce who picked and plucked their fruit and vegetables were seasonal migrants who come to work during the summer and autumn months.
How has this arisen? Well let’s be honest, it’s dirty work and from the 1950’s local people have shunned such work in preference for a cosier existence and you can’t knock them for that. But the work still needs to be done so who does it when today it is estimated that UK growing season needs approximately 80,000 workers?
This is where seasonal workers came in. By living in basic accommodation and putting in long hours they earn money to support themselves going to college or investing the money earnt in their own family when they return home to economies that are significantly less prosperous than the UK and which makes undertaking such back-breaking work worthwhile.
Unsurprisingly though following the Brexit vote, overseas workers have become more reluctant to come to the UK and this has also included seasonal workers who are now looking to secure future opportunities elsewhere on the basis that they do not feel welcomed and in anticipation of a time when they simply aren’t allowed to come.
Of the 80,000 workers required, only 13,500 approximately were British workers recruited in the spring of 2017. So where are the remaining 66,5000 going to come from?
Currently 83% of fruit and 62% of vegetables consumed in the UK is imported. Let me repeat that: 83% of fruit and 62% of vegetables are imported. If there are not enough pickers then these figures will only increase and this is likely to become even more expensive after the UK has left the EU.
There used to be a scheme – Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS) which allowed a fixed number of seasonal workers to come to the UK, offering them protection as well as ensuring that income tax and NI was properly accounted for. Unfortunately, the government abolished it in 2013 to demonstrate that it was getting tough on immigration – yet this was a scheme designed to support British farming needs and home-grown produce! The alternative sees the rise of illegal gangs with the resulting exploitation of workers through their wages, welfare, and worse.
British farming already faces losing its European subsidies when Brexit takes place and which for most farmers just about keeps them afloat, and, like the NHS, it is unlikely to see any of the alleged £350m per week that Brexiteers suggested would be saved, as an alternative subsidy.
But there’s a further consequence than just the cost of the produce on your plate. The sounding death knell for British farming will see the emergence of the super-farms run by privatised operators that will not only have an unhealthy control over the UK agricultural industry, but will likely demand the lifting of historic EU regulatory burdens to allow them to become more competitive – and which a UK government will be more than happy to oblige – resulting in intensive farming methods that will harm the welfare of livestock and destroy the landscape as their maximised profits ironically go overseas to the parent company based in an offshore tax haven.
So, for the xenophobes amongst you, and everyone else, you might just want to think about the wider and longer-term implications of Brexit on your pocket and on where you live as it may not be a ‘green and pleasant land’ for much longer.