This article was first published in South East Farmer.
The irony of farming is that it involves long term future planning, yet the best laid plans can turn into failure so quickly. No more so than this year, with its cold winter, wet spring and drought-ridden summer and now, as a result, the prospect of a tough winter in some sectors.
Overdrafts may be stretched to the limit, last year’s BPS pay-out may not have materialised yet, feed stores are running out and yields may be poor with returns low. The build-up of such problems may then be exacerbated by insufficient income over a long period. Not to mention the effects of a freak accident or an unexpected illness on a key member of the family.
While farming groups such as the NFU, CLA and sector farming organisations do continue to lobby DEFRA for help and a review of its support for the industry, talking shops don’t produce instant action. Some farmers need help quickly to stop the family spiralling into worse debt and themselves into anxiety and depression.
This is where the charity the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (R.A.B.I) can step in. Its expert welfare team can set things in motion to provide assistance, advice and, where appropriate, financial grants. In an emergency this can be achieved within days.
Through its national network of welfare officers, R.A.B.I helps people from the farming community on low incomes with few savings. This includes farm employees and contractors who may be struggling to get work because of the weather.
There can be many different reasons that financial difficulties begin – illness or accident, threat of homelessness, relationship breakdown and family disagreements being amongst them.
Last year R.A.B.I helped claim over £470,000 in state benefits for farming people, a 65% increase on 2016. The charity expects to see an increase in requests for help when the tax credit system is fully migrated over to Universal Credit.
As well as ‘working’ farmers and farm employees, R.A.B.I also helps those who have retired, are ill mentally or physically or disabled and no longer able to work. It can give grants for mobility equipment and home adaptations, essential white goods, home help, fuel and other living expenses and top-ups for care home fees.
It can take courage to ask for help, but so often all it takes is one phone call to R.A.B.I’s Helpline number 0808 281 9490 for problems to be shared and mitigated. As one grateful recipient said:
“Like most farmers – stoical (if being polite) or pig headed (if being realistic!!), we find it hard to open up and admit things are tough, but on her recent visit, the Welfare Officer understood and empathised with our situation, and was able to identify the ways in which we could best be helped. We will forever be indebted to her for this, as she didn’t make us feel ashamed or embarrassed to admit I was almost at breaking point. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.”