The call to action
The government have launched a formal appeal to raise a land army to pick the summer fruits. The clarion call is being sounded by Prince Charles, who is fronting the campaign to encourage Brits to get to work in the fields. The National Farmers Union estimated that as little as 1% of fruit pickers in 2018 were British, and in the face of Coronavirus travel restrictions, the nation is facing a shortage of workers this year. The scheme is aimed at students and furloughed workers, the latter of which can retain their 80% salary payments while undertaking their second job as a fruit picker.
Why we must take up the call
Just one third of work force required to see a successful harvest is in place for this year. If as a country we fail to muster the required labour to harvest the summer fruits, millions of tonnes of food will rot in the fields. This would be an unacceptable and wholly unnecessary amount of waste, not to mention a national embarrassment.
It is estimated between 60,000 and 90,000 workers will be required. With almost 8 million workers at home courtesy of the government’s Job Retention Scheme, and a further 2.1 million unemployed as of April. We have the surplus labour to meet the challenge. We also have the will, with over 50,000 workers having applied to pick fruit in April, and so many answering the governments call yesterday, that the Pick For Britain website crashed within minutes of having been announced. However, so far, we have seen low take up rates of these jobs, and it now falls to employers to offer the good conditions, liveable wages and agreeable terms necessary to provide decent employment for our new land army. If that means paying extra for our fruit, then so be it.
There is no reason in any year that Britain should rely on Eastern European labour to harvest its crops, and ensuring British people get to work in the fields will yield a number of benefits:
Emissions will be reduced drastically by eliminating the need for thousands of charter flights to import labour. Picking our own crops must be part of ensuring a greener, and cleaner future.
Unemployment is set to skyrocket in the coming months. By getting to work in sectors like agriculture, we will mitigate the inevitable rise in unemployment. This will have benefits to the mental and physical health of workers, as well as the government treasury which would otherwise have to pay out a higher unemployment benefit bill.
This additional work will put more money in people’s pockets, and that money will stay in Britain. This will help precipitate a spending boom once the crisis eases which will be necessary to climb out of the depression the economy is likely to fall into.
The revaluation of our culture
It reaffirms faith in the British can-do spirit that so many are expressing interest in manning the battlements in these times of crisis. Not just in the fields, but volunteering for the NHS, stacking the shelves and operating our warehouses. Let’s start with Pick for Britain, and then Build for Britain, and get to work building one million new homes to kickstart our economy, put back to work our furloughed builders and finally smash the housing crisis once and for all. For all the ills of the Coronavirus, of which they are both many and tragic, it could have finally demonstrated the importance of self-sufficiency. Let’s be sensible enough to put that lesson into practice.