New Communist Party of Britain
According to the Office for national Statistics about one-fifth of Britain’s population live in rural areas. However an estimated 980,000 households, equivalent to the population of Birmingham, are below the official poverty line (£16,492 a year) and struggling to balance food costs with other essential needs.
Average house prices in rural areas are more than eight times the average income, compared to 6.8 times in the cities. These high values have led to pubs, shops post offices, schools and even churches being converted into houses, tearing the heart out of communities and turning many villages into “dormitories” for wealthy incomers.
Rural housing is a growing problem with a dwindling stock of affordable housing for key workers such as teachers, nurses, police officers and many young people who have grown up in rural areas forced to move out, leaving an ageing population.
At the same time cuts and privatisation have decimated rural transport networks, leading to ever growing dependence on cars and a divide between those with cars and those without.
Many farmers are in crisis and struggling to keep afloat. In the dairy sector, for example, since the Milk Marketing Board was finally dissolved in 2002 and its Scottish counterpart in 2003, many have tied themselves into contracts with supermarket giants and other companies, leaving them at the mercy of arbitrary cuts in prices paid. Farmers without such contracts are even less viable, and there is no protection for other dairy products. Meanwhile the supermarkets, driven by the need for ever more profit, are increasingly selling cheap imported milk from unknown sources.
There are 135,000 workers employed in agriculture and the Unite union is currently campaigning to save the Agricultural Wages Boards for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, which provide some protection for them.
But increasing productivity has led to a sharp drop in full-time employment and a wave of casualisation in the form of self-employment, agencies, often illegal “gangmasters”, machinery rings and contractors.
Many British and Irish meat processors supplying Tesco have a permanent two-tier workforce, with directly employed workers alongside mainly migrant agency workers, who are on even lower pay and worse conditions, and there are some cases of shocking exploitation. But when confronted with detailed evidence Tesco and other major retail chains have failed to take any effective action.