To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, with reference to suicides in the farming sector, what steps he is taking to monitor levels of distress in that sector.
21 May 2019
Defra takes the issue of farmers and agricultural workers’ wellbeing very seriously. I am aware that rates of suicide are higher across the agricultural sector generally than they are for the general population. I know that they often have a solitary lifestyle, it is hard work and their businesses are subject to unpredictable factors such as the weather. As part of the Future Farming programme we are looking at the impact of policies on wellbeing, and we are also working with partners to foster personal and business resilience.
As part of our on-going work using data on the farming sector, we monitor the published ONS statistics on suicides by employment group. As well as headline mortality numbers, we keep under review the issues that may affect broader experiences of positive and negative wellbeing.
Officials meet regularly with farming and rural charities to hear first-hand about resilience in the farming sector. This provides an indication of how farmers and farm workers are responding to any pressures affecting the sector.
Government launched its first ever Loneliness Strategy in October 2018. One of Defra’s commitments is to hold regular stakeholder roundtables to tackle the issues of loneliness and isolation in rural areas. The next roundtable, to be chaired by Lord Gardiner, is being held on 11 June 2019. Defra also provides financial support through an annual grant of £1.7 million to Action with Communities in Rural England (ACRE), whose network of 38 rural community councils work on housing and transport issues that we know can affect farming communities.
Defra works closely with the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) on this issue. The National Suicide Prevention Strategy highlights the higher risk of suicide experienced by certain occupational groups, and this includes agricultural occupations. Through the Strategy, DHSC has ensured that every local authority has a suicide prevention plan in place to implement tailored approaches to reducing suicides based on the needs and demographics of local communities.
In October 2018, the Prime Minister announced the first Minister for Suicide Prevention, and she recently met the Farming Community Network to understand better the issues facing farmers.
It is important that farmers are aware of the people they can turn to if they are going through difficult times. In particular, the farming charities – the Farming Community Network, the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution and the Addington Fund – all do a brilliant job in supporting farmers and their families. The National Farmers Union also has a regional network of advisers who can provide support.