ORFC16 vounteer retrospective: Manifesto shows way forward for our countryside

This blog is part of our 2016 volunteer retrospective, showcasing the editorial contribution our wonderful volunteers made to last year’s ORFC. 

Written by Francis Barton, dated 7 January 2016, this blog is a write up of the launch of Equality in the Countryside.

Manifesto shows way forward for truly living and sustainable countryside

Kerry McCarthy MP welcomed the launch of a rural manifesto produced by the Landworkers Alliance and The Land magazine, saying that Labour Party policy must be “rural-proofed” to ensure that rural areas get as much attention as urban areas. “Housing, transport and employment are rural issues too,” McCarthy announced.

The manifesto, titled Equality in the Countryside, lays out 46 policy proposals for greater access for rural people to land, property and employment in the countryside, and was launched at the seventh annual Oxford Real Farming Conference.

The manifesto authors said that its proposals represent achievable ‘nudges’ to policy rather than revolutionary changes. Most people who live in the countryside do not work there. The high price of rural housing coupled with the low price of food is the key issue underlying rural poverty and inequality. The price of housing is now rising to nearly 50 per cent of earnings, compared to only 10 per cent 70 years ago.

Asked whether promoting a sustainable environment means rising food prices, the authors responded, amidst cries of support from the audience, that food prices do need to be higher to keep farming sustainable, but that the price of housing and access to land needed to be brought down instead.

The manifesto’s proposals cover eight areas from access to land, to housing, energy, transport and employment, and makes policy proposals for a comprehensive open access land registry, genuinely affordable housing including self-build, community ownership of renewable energy production and, according to Fairlie, nothing less than “the reinvigoration of the entire rural economy”.

Rebecca Laughton of the Landworkers Alliance, spoke of the need to “create opportunities” for an influx of young farmers to revive an ageing and declining UK farming population. Calling for a minimum price guarantee, particularly in the dairy sector, to “protect rural livelihoods for future generations.”

Laughton also spoke of the importance of the UK remaining in EU in order to protect the environment, workers rights and animal welfare standards.