Hinterland - 30 March 2020

In Hinterland this week - a series of rural flavoured covid 19 stories. Seems like we’ve been living with this for ever, although in reality its only a very short time!!! Read on…

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With No EU Workers Coming, The U.K. Agriculture Sector Is In Trouble

This story identifies the massive extent to which we depend on a global workforce. It tells us:

The U.K. organization for farmers, landowners and businesses in rural England and Wales has said labor shortages caused by coronavirus could be devastating for this years' harvest. They are calling for a 'land army' of local labour to be recruited to assist the sector, which expects to see its labour supply cut by 75% as EU workers who normally come to the U.K. to work for the harvest season are prevented from coming.

The U.K. agriculture sector was already in trouble, heavily reliant on EU workers as it is. Since the Brexit referendum in 2016, when the U.K. voted to leave the European Union, labour supply from the mainland has been dwindling, and the government's recent immigration stance emphasizing high-skilled migration has provided little comfort.

Now, thanks to coronavirus, we are seeing what happens when borders are totally closed to foreign workers, at least for one sector. According to the CLA, the agriculture sector usually uses around 60,000 seasonal laborers per year to complete the harvest, and they expect only around 25% of that amount this year. Factor in a 20% coronavirus infection rate the CLA is reckoning with, and they estimate some 80,000 people will need to be mobilized to protect Britain's harvest.


Diet, health, inequality: why Britain's food supply system doesn't work

A very thought provoking article about food….

Tim Lang likes to take the long view. A conversation with the internationally renowned professor of food policy at London’s City University will roam in detail from the repeal of the Corn Laws, through Brexit and back again, the narrative seasoned with detailed facts and figures. It’s why he has been a consultant to the World Health Organization, special adviser to four House of Commons select committee inquiries and a food policy adviser to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. So when he says in his new book, Feeding Britain, that, “although not officially at war, the UK is, de facto, facing a wartime scale of food challenge”, it’s worth paying attention. We are, he says, in serious trouble.   

Lang, who established the pioneering Centre for Food Policy at City University in 1994, makes no apologies for the bluntness of the statement. “I did not write that lightly,” he says, when we meet in central London. “I sat in my study, reviewing all the data. Things have just got worse.” Even so, he recognises how it looks. Panic buying aside, our supermarket shelves are usually full. We have access to a greater range of ingredients at better prices than at any time in human history. The conversation around how and what we eat often feels like it sits front and centre of the culture. “I like my food,” he says. “More joy around food has come into our lives.”

And yet, he says, all of that masks a bitter reality: we have a massively fragile just-in-time supply chain which could easily collapse; a depleted agriculture sector which produces only around 50% of the food we actually eat, leaving us at the mercies of the international markets; and production methods which are damaging to the environment and human health. “When I looked at the numbers on inequality,” he says, “I was shocked. There’s a staggering gap between rich and poor in terms of wealth and income and therefore access to food.” As he says: “Food is the biggest driver of NHS spending as a result of obesity, diabetes and heart disease.” Food may look cheap, he adds, but too much of it creates vast, unsustainable costs elsewhere.


Rural broadband network able to cope with demand, according to telecoms MD

This article about Norfolk, is, I am sure, applicable to most other rural settings. Makes me wonder if everyone that needs to is able to connect up on this basis in rural England or are some places that need this capacity less well served?

He said that even with the increased traffic as a result of the change in people’s lifestyles, usage was nowhere near its peak and he was confident there would be no immediate problems.

But he said he and his team of 30, including two people installing systems and a number of engineers, were working flat out as calls were coming in fast from people needing their systems upgraded to enable them to work from home more easily.

“I can’t foresee any problems at the moment. We are working really hard, our team doing the installations are completely booked up for the next three weeks and we are getting a lot of phone calls from people saying they need to work from home ‘today’ – really we need people to plan a little more but we are doing what we can for everyone who contacts us.

“At peak times we are at around 60-65% of the capacity giving us another 35% headroom, we are seeing traffic spread out during the day rather than the usual peak of 5-7pm when everyone used to start watching Netflix. So although traffic is higher we aren’t seeing the daily peaks.


As a GP, I’m worried about what coronavirus will do to the UK’s mental health

Its been less than a week and I’m already fed up, I think for a lot of people less fortunate than me in terms of their mental health, cabin fever will soon start to kick in. It tells us:

‘I always knew this was the way I was going to die – in my home, all alone.’ I’d just broken the bad news to my 54-year old patient Mary that she has to self-isolate after contracting a new cough and fever, and I’m concerned for her. Despite her background of anxiety and depression, she’s been stable for a number of years. She’s relapsing – and she’s not the only one.

Most patients I’m seeing now are anxious about their health, their livelihood, and their inability to pick up fundamentals like over-the-counter medicine because of stockpiling.  As frontline GPs, we’ve been facing an uphill battle with mental health for some time, but Covid-19 has exacerbated this significantly. An increased number of patients present daily with symptoms that indicate that they are stressed, anxious and becoming increasingly depressed.


Ocado buys 100,000 Covid-19 test kits to ensure 'safety for all'

If Ocada can act this quickly why cant the Government???

Food delivery company Ocado has said its decision to order 100,000 Covid-19 testing kits for staff would help keep grocery supplies flowing and protect both staff and the public - but has promised to hand them over to the NHS if required.

The firm said it wanted all its staff to be tested regularly to ensure customers who cannot visit the shops because they are observing lockdown protocols can receive deliveries safely.

It has paid £1.5m for the testing kits, with 40,000 already delivered and a further 60,000 to come. Ocado refused to state from which company it had bought the tests.

While Ocado has managed to source testing kits for staff contributing to the food supply effort, nurses and doctors have been left waiting.


And Finally 

Clap for our Carers: National applause for coronavirus health workers

Have a look at this uplifting video, this was the strongest ray of light in a dark week last week!

People across the UK have taken part in a national applause of thanks for health workers helping in the fight against coronavirus.

The public has been asked to follow strict regulations and stay at home.


About the author:
Hinterland is written for the Rural Services Network by Ivan Annibal, of rural economic practitioners Rose Regeneration.


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