Charity says recruiting ex-offenders to help short staffed Yorkshire farms is a 'no brainer'

Yorkshire farmers struggling with a severe post-Brexit staff shortage are being urged to recruit ex-offenders.

The Oswin Project is working to change employers’ perception of ex-offenders and realise the potential of this “untapped workforce", amid a nationwide shortage of seasonal workers

The Oswin Project, which helps former inmates in the North find employment, said there are thousands who are willing to work on farms and many of them took part in horticulture training programmes while they were in prison.

Chief executive Fiona Sample said the charity is working to change employers’ perception of ex-offenders and realise the potential of this “untapped workforce”.

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It comes as British farmers, who previously relied on migrant workers, are struggling to recruit enough people to harvest their crops and process meat, as the Government’s new points-based immigration discourages applications from people who are deemed to be “low skilled”.

Many of the charity’s clients committed low-level, non-violent offences and worked in farms or gardens at open prisons. It helps them find work while they are released on temporary licence or after they have served their sentence.

“To me, it's an absolute no brainer but to some there’s obviously still a barrier there,” said Ms Sample.

“It does not just help with the seasonal harvest, by employing ex offenders or those who are released on temporary licence, they're also helping to stop re-offending and transforming lives.

“It’s a transformative process which puts food on the table and reboots lives.”

She added: “It has huge possibilities and huge potential and is immensely good for the economy and all individuals concerned."

Last year, the National Farmers Union said 80,000 seasonal workers were needed to work for the UK’s horticultural businesses, but when the Government extended the Seasonal Workers Pilot in December 2020 it only offered 30,000 visas for people looking to take on jobs in the sector.

The union is now calling on the Government to make that scheme permanent and expand it.

It is also urging the Government to conduct a review of the impact of ending free movement on the food and farming sector and introduce 12-month Covid-19 recovery visas for migrant workers.

The Government said it is working with businesses to understand the permanent and seasonal workforce requirements, but employers should "make long-term investments in the UK domestic workforce instead of relying on labour from abroad".