Don't mention the farmers

This was not used in my YEP column - I think for the reason mentioned in the opening sentence...

I DON’T know where it came from, but there appears to be a rule that farmers are above criticism.

Many people are alarmed by migration from eastern Europe, which really has changed the character of some towns in eastern England – Wisbech in Cambridgeshire has 9,000 east Europeans in a population of about 30,000 and in Boston, Lincolnshire, a tenth of the population now come from recently-joined EU countries such as Poland, Lithuania, Latvia or Romania. I don’t think that to describe those towns as being swamped is putting it too strongly.

And the natives are restless not just for obvious reasons – stretched education and health services, crowded housing, shops they can’t understand – but because this seems like a takeover; that they’re living in a country that’s somehow changed hands.

This is perhaps how people in the big British cities felt 50 or so years ago, before they realised that the alien smell of curry had its attractions and that, in any case, there would be no getting away from it. Leeds, Leicester, Bradford and other places where, if you call a taxi, the driver will be very probably be Asian, are where we are now. It’s not a foreign country, it’s a country that’s changed.

For which you can blame many things – the government, politically- correct lefties, lily-livered liberals, fluoride or Gordon Brown, for example – but people seldom mention the real villains in rural communities, who are farmers paying minimal wages to people living, perhaps five-to-a-room, in appalling conditions and controlled by gangmasters who do the farmers’ bidding without getting their hands dirty

I’m tired of hearing the farmers’ reiterated argument that east Europeans have to be imported into the most lucrative agricultural areas of Britain because British workers simply aren’t up to the job.

We are the ones, remember, who in the industrial revolution created the modern world. We can do the job all right, but we can’t be expected to meekly welcome the growth of insecure, ill-paid work which makes it impossible to buy a decent home or bring up a family . There is a huge gap between living standards in eastern Europe and living standards here and evening-out the difference, unless it’s done upwardly, will help nobody but the farmers.

Incidentally, I do know something about immigration because I work as a volunteer reading assistant at Leeds City Academy, where the children were mostly born overseas and share 40 first languages.

My job is to help them to reads in English and, as a sideline, to understand Englishness because I want them to feel at home in a foreign country – something which I would have found quite a challenge had I been transported as a child, and without any say in the matter, to a distant corner of western Europe full of strange vowels and dialect words and told to make myself at home.

But these pupils, many of them from eastern Europe, cope impressively well with the challenge (well, most of them do; it’s dangerous to generalise about anything, particularly children). Some of them will, you sense, become model citizens, or possibly prime ministers, of somewhere or other because in a globalised world, which is, in summary, Leeds City Academy, the opportunities are endless.

But I can’t think it right that British agricultural workers, whose world has been going downhill since the invention of the tractor, should now, in the name of global efficiency, have to sink even further.

Migrants from eastern Europe and, in particular, their children deserve the hope of a better life and if this clashes with the wellbeing of native populations, we should blame the system, not the people.

#farmers #children #migrants

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