Report Synopsis

The role UK agriculture can play in delivering social care

Robin Asquith

Social care provision in the UK has undergone radical reform and cuts in recent years. At the same time people in general are increasingly removed from food production and access to the natural environment. Social farms and social prescriptions are used on a small scale in the UK but can be perceived as ‘niche’ or ‘unknown’.

Seeing first-hand how the funding and support mechanisms have been cut for individuals, and the subsequent deterioration of that person, challenged me to look at alternatives. Coupled with increased mechanisation and reduction in farmers’ mental health led me to assess whether agriculture has a role to play in filling the UK’s social care void.

Research has shown social prescriptions and accessing care farms are beneficial. But how can this be delivered on a larger scale in the UK? All the countries I visited had care farms, some in early stages and others more advanced. The Netherlands has a very developed care farming sector which is supported by central government. Within Scandinavia the closeness of nature is obvious to all; access to land and nature is commonplace. Agriculture can be a great connector: a connector of people, places and ideas; places where meaningful work opportunities abound. Farms are places which can meet the needs of people that no other social care provision can meet. Social farming works because there are real farmers, real problems and real visitors – no day service or intervention can replicate the diversity and opportunities a farm can offer someone. Learning from my visit to Italy, even greater benefits could arise from linking agriculture to other sectors - such as retail and food processing - to provide social care provision in these areas.

I set out expecting people would say this is a solution to enable small-scale agriculture to become viable. It is a way, but has far wider reaching implications for the whole of society. Social farmers use agriculture and horticulture as a vehicle to help deliver solutions to society’s problems. They help with social inclusion and cohesion, confidence, and skills building. Farms offer places to develop individuals who don’t want to be stuck inside, who need that little bit of help and support to get back on track with life; or in the case of dementia, provide safe meaningful care in the latter stages of life.

Importantly, I must emphasise that this isn’t a ‘cure-all’ solution to social care, nor is it applicable to all farms. But, it does emphasise that we all have a moral obligation to ‘build on a desire to do the right thing’. I am a person who loves to be outside, working the land. I would hate to think that in the latter stages of my life, I was imprisoned in a mid-town care home sitting doing a jigsaw because of an age-related disease. How wonderful it must be for people to be able to access a farm or garden, socialise with others in a relaxed person-centred environment. This is an opportunity I aim to allow every citizen in the UK to have.

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