Benefits

Marion Haworth [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Tory MPs press Osborne on benefits‘ was a headline on the FT website on Tuesday evening, referring to the wish of some Conservative MPs to cut benefits in order to reduce government spending. Apparently the linking of benefits to inflation could be changed to a link to earningsbut only over the Liberal Democrats’ bodies – so that’ll probably happen as they seem a lifeless lot these days.

When I saw that Peter Kendall was having lunch with the Prime Minister yesterday I assumed that he was showing the caring side of the NFU and offering up some of the income support received by the wealthiest in the country through the Single Farm Payment.  But sadly, that wasn’t the case.

Just to recap: the Single Farm Payment is income support for farmers (most British farmers and most EU farmers) that is a hang-over from production subsidies that did so much harm in the past.  Almost all farmers (there are some small-ish sectors that never got EU subsidies) get cheques from you and me which are not related to the farmers’ wealth or poverty, environmental excellence or misdemeanours, size, shape, age, gender or anything except the fact that the land they own used to get subsidies in the past.  So the Duke of Westminster will get these subsidies in the same way, but obviously to a much larger extent, than does the the poorest farmer in the land.

By Voceditenore at en.wikipedia [Public domain or Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons
This blog is in favour of public money going to the farming community but would like to see the system overhauled completely.  It cannot  be right that the public sector loses jobs and pension entitlements, and those apparently deserving of payments from the state see their payments reduced, whilst billions of pounds are misspent every year on crude income support for farmers.

Although Mr Kendall is not thought to have handed over a large cheque in Downing St yesterday there is likely to be an overall cut in CAP spending in future, as there has been in past reviews of the system.  The question is, will the cuts be made in the right places? Will cuts in budgets lead to better environmental delivery and fairer allocation of resources to the needy rather than the greedy amongst the farming community?

At this time of harvest festivals, the President of the NFU ought to be making a public broadcast thanking the rest of the country for not realising that, even in a time of austerity, when even the needy must do their bit for the country’s finances, the ordinary taxpayer provides billions of pounds of income support for farmers regardless of need.

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21 Replies to “Benefits”

  1. You can imagine the public interest and outcry if the Duke of Westminster was to (legitimately) claim job seekers or disability allowance, why is single payment any different in the public eye? It's an awful lot more money from the tax payer yet legitimacy in claiming it is a lot easier.

    Would love mr Kendal to offer a full justification why his members receive this funding stream in the current climate - and lets get one thing clear, food production, however important is not a public good. Would be a great guest blog Mark.

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  2. Made me smile Mark,because with the small different phrases we both have bent towards over a period of time we both sing from the same hymn sheet so a huge pat on the back from me and the cup of tea offer implied was of course genuine and would be privileged to meet you.

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    1. Dennis - thanks Dennis. I feel I know you quite well now, although we have never met and I could walk past you in the street without having a clue who you are. That's one of the things that social media does to us - it opens up new friendships. We'll have that cup of tea some time, I am sure.

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  3. This country is now far to the right has it can hope to ever be and there is little a right sided labour party can do about it. Why are so many people happy to pay so much tax when the rich pay so little and enjoy the hand outs as well. The next hand out will be for pheasants [not peasants] .

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  4. Its not just about handouts - its about the entire values system we apply to farming and the countryside and the responsibility lies with all of us - including and especially the NFU who have prime movers in the myth of cheap food.

    What are the problems ?
    First, that technology and ethics have become detached: there's an assumption that if you can do it then you should do it - the GM position - which, for example, has created obscene, drug laden super dairies in the US where cows are no more than machines, and machines with an unnaturally short life.

    Second, the market place used to justify the UK going the same way to compete in milk producing. But also, because of its excessive swings, likely to cause increasing problems worldwide, including generating starvation in poorer countries. In Fighting for Birds, Mark, you say 'farming is different' - I'd agree, and one place it is different in that the sort of silly swings we take for granted and don't do much harm if its Facebook shares may actually cost lives applied to basic foods.

    Third, the problem that things economists recognise as having value aren't given any value on the ground - it is no surprise that farming pollutes our water and floods our houses when the urban majority clammer for ever cheaper food and pay farmers to produce it. The fault, in my view is with the farmers only so far as their lobby continues to fight for this flawed regime - but then think of it from a personal point of view - would you support a review of your pay when there's the probability is that any new system would cut it dramatically ? Or would you argue for a rise or at least a stand still under the old system ?

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  5. One of my favourite films is the 1960 western, "The Magnificent Seven". It ends with Yul Brynner summing up with this line: "The Old Man was right. Only the farmers won. We lost. We'll always lose." I've been reminded of that so many times over the subsequent 50 years!

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    1. PeterD - great comment. It wouldn't make such a good ending but he ought to have said 'some of the farmers', probably...

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  6. The CAP was originally introduced because of the postwar need to produce food and mitigate rural depopulation in Europe. It wasn't designed for us and when we joined the party, belatedly, our agricultural industry benefitted disproportionately. Trebles all round!

    Economic changes happening right now may drive agricultural prices high enough to allow farmers to rely less on or dispense with the SPS. Many would welcome this, as in one bound they would be free of cross compliance, the RPA , the lobbying influence of the NGOs and all the other interfering busybodies who think they could manage land in a better way.

    If we lose the support system for agriculture, much of the leverage to effect conservation in the wide sense will be lost with it. We're getting into "Be careful what you wish for" territory again.

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    1. Filbert - indeed. But switching all support into Pillar 2 wouldn't have that effect. And nor would having more say in how farmers farm in return for my existing payments. And nor would dividing the pot so that more money (with strings, no doubt) went to the most deserving farmers. There are many routes for reform to take that would lead to a better situation for farmers and taxpayers than where we are all becalmed at the moment.

      The fact that you can say that current economic changes might drive prices high enough for farmers to feel they could rely less on SPS (or SFP) might be true (although we won't see many dairy farmers signing up to that). Do farmers really want to plough up that last metre of land up to the hedge - 'cos there aren't many other environmental constraints imposed through cross-compliance are there?

      The difference with this 'be careful what you wish for' is that removing the subsidies which don't do much good at the moment would at least put a few billion pounds a year back into the taxpayers pockets. That might be some compensation. Some parts of the farming industry should 'be careful not to take the nation's generosity for granted'.

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  7. Making more money and being less dependant on Government won't necessarily cause yet more damage: we are fortunate that most farms are still privately as opposed to corporately owned and a high proportion of farmers live on their farms. Despite the macho rhetoric (its funny that trees are always planted on farms at the instigation of the wife !) there is still a contrast between privately owned and the (thankfully rare) company farming projects which really did take it to the limit. Were there more money about perhaps owners like the National Trust should work with tenants to reverse some of the losses that have occurred even on charitably owned land rather than simply squeezing out more money. There's one thing that's for sure, and I'm suspect Mark's experienced it, its very hard to talk conservation and even tiny production losses to a guy about to be overwhelmed by his overdraft - a situation that sadly quite a lot of hard working dairy farmers must be facing right now.

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  8. Roderick,would you explain how farmers flood our houses,think you will find yourself the general public paving over gardens and building more houses and demanding more factories with resulting quicker run off from gutters and paving and concrete are the culprits,you come over in your comment as intent on blaming farmers even when completely innocent,indeed maybe as they take surplus water when floods occur for their lakes for irrigation at a later date they maybe slightly helping to prevent your houses flooding.

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    1. Douglas - I think it would be the Council, but then the farmer (the tenant) might expect a lower rent as a result of that. The Council might pass the SFP to the tenant as part of the deal. It gets complicated.

      Others, please correct me if I am wrong.

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  9. £400,000 of Public cash for the Henderson project?
    How many Policemen or Nurses is that then?

    We're all in this austerity malarkey together - aren't we!

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  10. Mark Hi, the subsidy goes to the working farmer not the landlord if it is a full tenancy or an FBT as the farmer has the entitlements which he has to activate against the land he farms. In some contract management agreements the subsidy forms part of the income and is split between the landowner and farmer by agreement.

    As a farmer I am constantly asked how the CAP subsidies can be justified and increasingly stuck for a good answer. GATT talks designed to limit production subsidies based on limiting support for production subsidies linked to commodities basically failed as the Eu and US transferred them to direct support of farmers as you know. Interestingly US farm support exceeds European levels but takes the form of support for say items such as Federal Crop Insurance and biofuels etc. Since the overriding aim of both our partners in the EU and the US is political and scioeconomic when it comes to agricultural support it is hard to see how level playing field could exist where agricultural support was cut drastically. Although I would welcome this personally I also realise that it is very unlikely in the immediate future.

    I think that the UK will push for reduced direct support in the current CAP round and while a lot of my fellow farmers are going to worry about being disadvantaged even more than we are already in comparison to say French or German farmers I think it will lead to a fitter industry in the long run. After all New Zealand has one of the best farming industries with zero subsidies. Unfortunately reading back through this blog about comments on large scale farming I don't thing your going to like some of the consequences. The comment about " be careful about what you wish for " was I'm afraid spot on. The world food distribution system is very vulnerable to wide swings in supply in a very volatile market which is and has disadvantaged countries which relie heavily on food imports and it's going to get a lot worse. The comment on cheap food and what a myth was very wide of the mark. The value of food is the proportion it represents of your whole income. Our situation in this country with even a subsidies farming system bears no relationship to that faced by other economies which are less successful.

    Julian

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    1. Julian - thank you very much for a very interesting comment. I appreciate you taking the time to spell all that out to us.

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  11. One of my fundamental criticisms of the payments systems for farmers is that taxpayers money is supporting food production and countryside destruction yet almost nothing has been done to seriously reduce the amount of food that is wasted. Not only do householders still waste a lot of food, food retailers and wholesalers also waste colossal quantities of food. Although I no proof, I would hazard a guess that if you added up all the food held by all the supermarkets at any one time it would be more than the population could eat during the shelflife of that food. People see so much food around them they have ceased to place a real value on it – if you buy 4 banana’s in a packet and throw 2 away, you can go buy 4 more tomorrow. If you only had 4 banana’s a week you would eat them all. Each day 1.6 million banana’s are thrown away.

    A 2011 stat instantly available on the web:
    About 15 million [yes million] tonnes of food is thrown away each year. 50% of this comes from households.
    Each day 600,000 whole eggs; 20 million slices of bread; 1.3 million unopened cartons of yoghurt…
    In total the examples of food waste given on the Greenoak Solutions website add up to nearly £8 BILLION.
    This is environmental madness.

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    1. It is madness. Think on this: preventing 33% food wastage is equivalent to raising yield by 50%. Plant breeders chase single percentage yield gains.

      I'm always lurking about near the condemned items shelf. If it isn't blue, I'll eat it.

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  12. Dennis, I can explain what I mean very easily: you are easily old enough to remember the massive field drainage campaign of the 50s-late 70s and if you want the hard facts look up 'Taming the Flood' by Jeremy Purseglove. It was just winding down when I was studying agriculture and looking at Mark's book for example, its herbicides like Roundup, which was just coming in that gets the mention. In line with general intensification, it was the drainage campaign that brought arable down onto the floodplains which had previously been too wet to cultivate. Urbanisation has had a significant effect, too. Perhaps one of the biggest and of huge conservation importance was the expansion of Milton Keynes which was probably responsible for the extinction of the newly - and fragile - recolonisation of Ruff and Black Tailed Godwit on the Ouse Washes - the speeded runoff meant the Washes stayed flooded into the spring and waders couldn't nest. The problem is still there to the extent that RSPB eventually bought and manages land alongside rather than on the Washes and Black Tailed Godwit have returned, but not the Ruff.

    On blaming farmers, I'm not that interested in the blame game - I am interested in charting how we've got to where we are and shaping a new future. Personally, I think its urgent because we've wound our countryside up to a point where there's little resilience to things like flooding. The way we've all bunkered down to fight our own sectoral corners is disastrous as is the way primary producers - farmers and foresters - have become victims of the flawed market place. Which is why I'd like to see farmers paid for what society needs - and if that means ploughing out some of those field drains to save our cities from flooding I think we should do it, and, vitally, us urbanites must pay farmers now and in the future for delivering the goods we need now, not the goods we needed in 1947.

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  13. " ... if that means ploughing out some of those field drains to save our cities from flooding I think we should do it"

    Roderick - could you explain how that works?

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