Comment: Farmers needn’t struggle alone

Sally Conner, regional manager of the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution.
Sally Conner, regional manager of the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution.
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Just Ask! That’s the message from all of us at farming charity the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (R.A.B.I.) in the run-up to winter.

You never know when someone may need help. People can get into financial difficulty through no fault of their own, for example as a result of accident, illness, bereavement or animal disease. But sadly, farming people are among the least likely, perhaps through pride, to talk about their problems, seek help, or even claim the state benefits to which they are entitled.

As a welfare charity R.A.B.I. can’t help with business problems and is instead concerned with the impact that financial difficulties can have on the lives of farming families.

We know it’s hard to ask for help, but we may be able to do more than people may think. We support elderly and retired people, but we also offer short-term help to working farmers and farm workers.

It could be someone who can’t work following an accident for whom we may fund temporary help on the farm, or if someone has been made redundant we may be able to help them retrain.

Alternatively it could be someone who, due to unforeseen events, can’t take enough from their business to provide for their family who we then support by a one-off donation to help them heat their home in the winter. We also give food vouchers when necessary and on one occasion we even gave money for Christmas presents for children. We treat every application on its own merits.

We can also help by paying for people to train in additional skill which they can use to earn extra off-farm income.

In 2013, we gave out more than £250,000 to help 157 farming families in Yorkshire. Grants varied from helping a farmworker who was made redundant by paying his rent arrears, to helping a family pay household bills after an accident left a farmer unable to work. We also made up shortfalls in housing benefit and provided grants to cover funeral costs and bankruptcy fees.

People from all industries can find it difficult in these circumstances and many have their own welfare charities which help in difficult times. Farmers don’t want to be a special case but agriculture is different because it’s a way of life and business and domestic finances are often intertwined. For various reasons there can also be dramatic differences in income month to month and year to year, making it very hard to plan family finances.

Farmers are resilient, but even government statistics show that a quarter of farming families live on or below the poverty line, and we want to encourage anyone in need to contact our helpline.

Even if we can’t help, we probably know someone we can. That’s why being part of the Yorkshire Rural Support Network is so important - being part of the network is invaluable to the support organisations themselves, but with their permission, it also allows us to signpost people to relevant and correct help from other organisations.

Farming is a great industry with a tremendous future – food is the one product we all need and we all depend on farmers for our own survival. But not everyone can take advantage of the opportunities.

If you know someone in financial need, of any age, please urge them to call R.A.B.I.’s helpline on 0300 303 7373.

Sally Conner is regional manager of the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution.