The Ulster Farmers’ Union is calling for more research into the problem of poverty and social isolation in rural areas.
It is making this call in response to a consultation on a successor to DARD’s Tackling Rural Poverty and Social Isolation Framework, concluding that the current framework had worked well and citing as successes the helping to fund Rural Support initiatives and the Health Check service for farmers.
The UFU says that, as the largest group in rural areas, it is right that schemes address the problems faced by the farming community – problems made worse by the current financial crisis in agriculture.
Examples of areas where action is needed, according to the UFU, include poor rural broadband and mobile phone coverage, transport limitations, poor availability of childcare in rural areas and rural crime.
“Farming families are often responsible for caring for both young children and elderly parents as well as working away from home to subsidise depleted farm income. More support is needed through accessible respite centres, affordable childcare and other forms of practical assistance,” said Freda Magill, of the UFU’s Rural Affairs committee, who added that community planning and engagement is key to delivering effective initiatives.
The UFU says more needs to be done to recognise the restrictions on help that farmers face, because they are asset rich and cash poor. That asset is land, which cannot be readily sold, yet, because it is taken into account, many are excluded from social welfare and other aid schemes.
“We would also like to see more done to tackle succession since many farmers have neither a reasonable pension nor someone to take over their farm. Not having structures in place to tackle these twin problems blocks prospects for young people who need access to land,” said Dr Magill.
With more and more services used by farmers delivered on line the UFU is calling for a greater effort to tackle computer literacy. It also wants research into whether, as evidence suggests, some farmers have reading difficulties. It is also pressing for a greater recognition of the isolation in farming, and the vulnerability farming families feel because rural crime is perceived to be on the rise.
“We believe more needs to be done to help rural dwellers feel safe and secure,” she added.