UK Pleads with Citizens to Join Food and Farming Industries

The UK has asked citizens to assist the food production industry by picking fruit and vegetables to ensure the food supply runs smoothly.

This work is often carried out by seasonal workers, the majority of them from overseas, but the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS) was closed down this January as the Government states SAWS is no longer necessary. The Home Office hopes UK nationals will take over the roles previously filled by Europeans, largely Bulgarians and Romanians.

Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs George Eustice said: “We need to mobilise the British workforce to fill that gap and make sure our excellent fruit and vegetables are on people’s plate over the summer months.”

There are concerns for the future of agriculture in the UK when access to overseas talent is restricted. [Image: FarmingUK].

The British Grower’s Association has said there is a need for approximately 70,000 seasonal staff per year. Yet the new points-based immigration system being put forward is only permitting 10,000 permits for a seasonal workers’ pilot scheme for non-UK nationals. There is little indication that UK nationals intend to fill the roles meaning everything is riding on the ‘hope’ from the government that 60,000 British individuals will be able to take on seasonal work.

There is little indication that UK nationals intend to fill the roles meaning everything is riding on the ‘hope’ from the government

In a bittersweet move, the coronavirus pandemic has shown Britain what the future may be like when Free Movement comes to an end. As travel is currently severely limited to and from both UK and the European continent, the industry is facing a huge shortage of workers just in time for the picking season.

Nick Marston of British Summer Fruits said 98% of harvest staff in 2019 were migrants and has asked the government for “clarity” on whether new migrant recruits can travel to the UK.

The National Farmer’s Union (NFU) has said the temporary workers would “contribute to the health of the nation.”

An advertisement campaign run across British newspapers and social media is encouraging workers to come forward, using the slogan “Feed Our Nation”, from Tuesday 24 March.

The British Growers’ Association’s Jack Ward said: “[This is] a great opportunity for anyone wanting to get involved in making sure the nation’s fruit and vegetable crops get to our consumers.”

In a bittersweet move, the coronavirus pandemic has shown Britain what the future may be like when Free Movement comes to an end

Eustice also said he “would encourage” people to sign up, but seasonal work does not suit all. Migrants were able to use the work to earn a better wage as well as travel in the UK and support themselves financially. The Government has long looked down on these jobs, calling them ‘low skilled’, therefore hardly encouraging the public to join the sector. The role may work for students, but due to seasonal work being unreliable once the season ends, people with families, mortgages and other responsibilities would be wary of such work.

Ali Capper from the NFU has asked “young, fit” university students and those out of work to join the farming and food industries.

The call comes at a time where the UK is self-isolating under a temporary lockdown, but assurances have been made that workers would follow social distancing rules as they work.