Skip to main content
A Magazine for Sheffield

Should Britain’s farmers get a Universal Basic Income?

A new report says that our food producers should receive a regular and unconditional payment every month to help offset soaring costs and a fall in living standards.

Michael austin y Fxr Mmef m Q unsplash
Michael Austin on Unsplash.

Every farmer in the UK should receive a regular and unconditional Basic Income to help cover their living costs, as well as to help keep the industry afloat as costs soar and margins tighten.

That’s the recommendation in a new report produced by campaign group BI4Farmers, working in collaboration with think-tank Autonomy and the Basic Income Conversation campaign.

The authors of the report say that many of the problems in the UK’s farming sector are caused by inadequate incomes for farmers, and point to Basic Income as part of the solution that could help uniquely meet the needs of farmers.

Jo Poulton

Jo Poulton said that the "stakes are higher than ever" for UK farmers.

“From workers to landowners, livelihoods in agriculture are often precarious,” Jo Poulton, co-ordinator of BI4Farmers, told Now Then. “A lack of funded pathways and financial support makes careers in producing food both hard to access and difficult to sustain.”

“Financial insecurity impacts the mental and physical wellbeing of those who produce our food whilst weakening the overall strength of the local food system. Finding ways to support these livelihoods will be critical to building the resilient, sustainable, and just local food systems we need.”

Basic Income, sometimes called a Universal Basic Income (or UBI) when given to a whole population, is a regular and unconditional cash payment given to every individual regardless of their income, wealth or personal circumstances.

The idea is usually proposed for every individual in the country, but campaigners believe a targeted Basic Income for farmers could help address some of the unique circumstances in the sector such as the withdrawal of EU subsidies and an increasing focus within government on rewilding some farmland.

“Brexit has introduced complex economic changes that demand innovative financial solutions within the agricultural sector,” said Poulton. “The interconnectedness of UK farmers’ income security and the climate crisis cannot be denied, yet neither issue is being addressed with the urgency it warrants.”

“The stakes are higher than ever, as the repercussions of not addressing these issues rapidly could lead to worsening food security across the UK with parallel crises evolving in both our climate and food supply.”

Alongside the escalating climate crisis, many scientists now believe that our food system is at risk of collapse, putting farmers in an especially vulnerable position on the frontline of these two concurrent and intersecting crises.

The profession is also struggling to recruit new entrants, with the average age of farmers in the UK now at 59 and with government support schemes often not providing sufficient help to smaller-scale farms. Responding to a survey in January last year, a quarter of farmers said they planned to leave the profession.

For Poulton, introducing a Basic Income for farmers would test out some of the most important principles of the idea, such as whether it could encourage more people into a critical profession. This could then tell us about the likely effects of a Basic Income if rolled out to everyone in the country.

“We believe in the power of UBI for all, and 95% of the farmers we talked to wanted a UBI for all but agreed that we are starting from where we are as a group of farmers, growers, farmworkers and academics we can see just how critical a tool like Basic Income could be to ensure farming activity can continue through these economically and environmentally volatile times,” she said.

The campaign are now planning to draw up a specific proposal for a pilot project that could test the impact of the idea on real farms.

“We will begin research into how a pilot scheme could be designed and delivered to collect data on the efficacy of the policy and make the case for systemic change in the financing of farming that is so clearly needed,” said Poulton.

More Climate & Environment

Mind the (emissions) gap

Carbon emissions are still increasing as global policies fail to address climate change. Could systems thinking be the way forward?

More Climate & Environment