The War on Raspberries 202

On a recent visit to the National Mining Museum in Newtongrange, I was taken slightly aback by the questions from young adults who knew nothing at all about Thatcher’s destruction of the coal mining industry or its motives. It is hard to realise that for an 18 year old today the miners’ strike is as chronologically distant an event as Dunkirk was to me.

My whole adult life has been defined by the changes initiated by Thatcher and continued by Tories and New Labour. It is hard to remember now the world where your employer could not, by law, sack you just because they wanted to, and where you could get state protection from rapacious landlords charging unfair rents. The destruction of heavy industry in order to destroy the strength of organised labour, and the privatisation of the monopoly utilities for the profit of the rich, was a transformation that is at the root of the mass misery we live amongst today.

There was one small and forgotten part of Thatcher’s attack on traditional working class lifestyle that you probably had to be in Dundee to remember. The war on berry pickers. The soft fruit of the Carse of Gowrie and the Tay Valley is an important part of the Scottish economy. There is currently much concern as to how, post-Brexit, labour is to be found to pick the fruit. Government proposals to issue visas for the purpose are an order of magnitude below what is needed, and local labour remains difficult to attract.

It did not used to be difficult, until around 1980 the Tories launched an extraordinary campaign to drive pickers out of the fields. Berry pickers, they decided, were an unacceptable part of the informal economy and were not declaring their income on benefits claims. Suddenly teams of besuited benefits inspectors started appearing among the raspberry canes demanding social security numbers. People signing on for the broo had to produce their hands for inspection for berry stains. There was a campaign in the rabidly Tory Courier newspaper which even alleged that Tayside berry pickers were a major source of funding to the IRA!

So people stopped going to pick berries. Who would give up their unemployment benefit for a few weeks back-breaking seasonal work, with all the delays and rigours of signing back on again?

Which suggests to me a possible solution to the problem. British people should be able to do up to three months seasonal agricultural work without any requirement to declare the income for either tax or benefit purposes. This would make the financial incentive sufficient to get people into the fields, would protect the economic benefit of the crops to the economy, and would be benefit neutral (the benefits are already being paid) and more or less tax neutral (the large majority who can do this would be nowhere near reaching the income tax threshold anyway).

I am not sure whether the Scottish government’s tax and benefit powers suffice to introduce this in Scotland alone, but it should be considered as a possible way forward throughout the UK.

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202 thoughts on “The War on Raspberries

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  • EoH

    Excellent recommendation. Tax neutral, certainly when also considering the sums Thatcher spent on implementing the “gotcha” bureaucracy – intentionally divisive, political and punitive, rather than economic or fairness driven. As May’s Home Office illustrates, the model has metastasized throughout government.

    The suggestion encourages labor, fulfills a need, and recycles the money earned immediately to the local economy. The latter is much more productive than the cost of a single jet fighter, military spending being among the least productive expenditures.

    That leaves the question of adequate pay, temporary housing, and fair treatment, given that the people who would do this work might vary greatly, but they will all be vulnerable.

  • reel guid

    The BBC’s Down with Scotland campaign intensifies. Tonight’s QT from Edinburgh has no Scottish MPs or MSPs. No representative from Scotland’s, by far, largest party. You know the one, the one that’s in government at Holyrood.

    The panel has a Yorkshireman who sits in the Commons for Labour as a member for one of the seats in Nottingham. London businessman Theo Paphitis. London broadcaster Julia Hartley-Brewer. London based economist Fazia Shaheen. The only panellist with Scottish connections is Tory MP Rory Stewart. That’s if you think a guy born in Hong Kong into a Scottish landowner family, who was educated at Eton and Oxford and who sits for a seat in Cumbria is genuinely Scottish.

    So there you have it. Scotland’s real concerns can be ignored or given a brief token mention by the presenter and guests. The SNP has about 100 parliamentarians in Holyrood, Westminster and Brussels. And the BBC thinks it’s justified in keeping them off the panel.

    Add to which the total imbalance in newspapers in Scotland whereby only 2 or 3% of dailies and Sunday papers support independence despite half of Scotland being in favour of it.

    Why doesn’t the BBC call editions of QT from Scotland ‘Colonial Question Time’? Because that’s what it is.

    • Mark

      Reel Guid, indeed I would like to say I am shocked at this week’s QT line-up and its shocking lack of Scottish representation, but the show is so blatantly biased these days it’s really not surprising. It’s also a deeply pro-right wing panel too – the only voice from the left here is Fazia Shaheen. I have to ask how is that representative of the political situation let alone how is it impartial?

      • Charles Bostock

        “Reel Guid, indeed I would like to say I am shocked at this week’s QT line-up and its shocking lack of Scottish representation”

        I notice two things about this and similar posts in the past: firstly and if we’re going to be strict about this, the presence of one “real Scot” on the QT panel would imply that the size of the panel would have to be considerably increased in order to preserve the population ratio between England and Scotland and so ensure that the Scots were not OVER-represented; secondly, why is it that readers who are of ethnic origin, or Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, or Welsh or Northern Irish or even Southern Irish, etc etc never seem to complain on here about under-representation on QT?

        • Mark

          I take your point Charles but my initial shock was referring to what Reel had said, which was that QT was live from Scotland today, a statement that is actually incorrect. If QT were from Scotland, I’d expect to see at least one ‘real Scot’ on the panel – i don’t think that’s too much to ask

    • Vivian O'Blivion

      Calm yourself. The BBC’s spiral of self harm is to be welcomed. Menthorn Production have assumed the lead in driving the credibility of BBC News to uncharted depths in eyes of an increasingly larger cohort of the public. Power to self policing social media. Death to the BBC and MSM.

      • reel guid

        All very well Vivian. But how many people will recognise what the BBC and their masters are up to in comparison to how many people will embrace their servitude Brave New World style by preoccupying themselves with the new series of Strictly and X Factor?

      • Mark

        I welcome the suicide of BBC journalism and the MSM in general but like Reel Guid says it is still a concern that so many happily lap up the warm diarrhea they spoonfeed them, especially the older viewers who take everything the TV tells them as gospel

      • reel guid

        Sorry. My mistake. It is from Banbury. I misread a tweet about it from SNP Mike Russell.

        Still most of our criticisms remain valid. And it’s still an unrepresentative panel.

        Also QT is registered as a BBC Scotland show even though it’s not Scottish. The perennial BBC con trick of being able to say enough shows are made by BBC Scotland.

        • Charles Bostock

          Never mind, we all make mistakes!

          But on the practical level, now, and eschewing rhetoric : would you be in favour of expanding the panel so as to have a “real Scot” on it every week without violating the England / Scotland population ratio factor, or would you prefer to have a “real Scot” feature at regular intervals, say every 4 weeks?If not, any other ideas for practical solutions to the serious problem you highlighted?

          • reel guid

            There should be a regular television political panel show for Scotland. We won’t get that though until independence and there’s a Scottish Broadcasting Service.

        • Mark

          Reel Guid is there really no regular Scottish political panel show? I find that really jaw dropping. I mean, here in the North West we have something called The Granada Debate for all things occurring politically and socially in our region. Not that Scotland is a region of course, and it’d be a bit much to try and represent every corner of Scotland in one catch all programme but it really is pretty rotten if there’s absolutely nothing on offer

    • N_

      Why doesn’t the BBC call editions of QT from Scotland ‘Colonial Question Time’? Because that’s what it is.

      Edinburgh is an important British city as well as an important Scottish one. When QT is in London, how many Londoners are on it?

      That said, you’d have thought that when it’s in Scotland they could have a question or two about Scotland – the status of which is of course relevant to Britain as a whole – and that having a guest or two from Scotland would be a good idea.

      • Iain Stewart

        “Edinburgh is an important British city as well as an important Scottish one. When QT is in London, how many Londoners are on it?” Except that (after “careful reading” as Craig would say) reel guid’s point was not about the absence of citizens of Edinburgh. So your answer sounds a little like saying that Edinburgh is also an important colonial city.

  • Mark

    I feel for these 18 year olds ignorant of Thatcher and New Labour – they presumably believe that society was always this shit

      • Mark

        Well I went with 18 year olds as that’s the generation Craig alludes to in his post, but you’re right there are probably people in their twenties and thirties equally ignorant…worrying, but likely

  • Charles Bostock

    I have come across the following argument, which I have summarised and on which I would be glad to get opinions.

    “In the 1930s, and perhaps even until the mid-1950s, the married bloke with 2 children earning the average national wage paid virtually no income tax.

    Today, income tax extends down to those earning well below the average national wage. To the low-paid, in fact.

    The reason for that is that government expenditure has risen greatly since those days, especially on various social security rubrics (defence spending, by contrast, has declined from around 15% of GDP in the early 1950s to around 2% today) – income transfers through direct taxation.

    It is an illusion to think that there would be more money to spend on social security and other good things if only the “rich” and “business” were taxed a little more – or even a lot more.

    The fact is that income tax at the standard rate provides the biggest chunk of government revenue. It is therefore inevitable that the net has to be spread as widely as possible, ie to medium and low earners as well.”

    • Paul Greenwood

      It is actually because PAYE was imposed on employers and once that happened it was so easy to lower the thresholds……the biggest burden on earned income since 1960 in every major OECD country is Big State and not just in terms of Direct Exactions but also in User Fees and Levies on Energy costs and Fuel costs.

      • Charles Bostock

        “It is actually because PAYE was imposed on employers and once that happened it was so easy to lower the thresholds”

        I see that but think PAYE was introduced as a win-win system for employers, employees and government (although I can see why the tax-dodging fraternity would have disliked it). France will (finally) go over to PAYE as from 2019, having decided this a few years ago but postponed till now. Happy to see you agree about Big State. And what you say about energy and fuel costs as taxes/rents is well developed in James Meek’s “Private Island – why Britain now belongs to someone else”
        (NB to Sharp Ears – Chapter 5 on the NHS could be read with profit, it’s not long, only 44 pages)

          • foolisholdman

            I think during WW2 there was a “sales tax” but I seem to remember that later, VAT was introduced. That is a really regressive tax! And from the small employers’ pov a bloody nuisance as the quarterly accounts had to balance to the nearest penny! With heavy fines for lateness.

        • Bayard

          “I see that but think PAYE was introduced as a win-win system for employers, employees and government”

          I’m sure that how it was sold, but as things have turned out, PAYE really only benefits the government as it allows them more feathers with only the same amount of hissing.

  • Charles Bostock

    Is there any basis for thinking that if the local unemployed WERE allowed to earn extra money during the fruit picking season without that affecting their social security benefits, they would actually grasp the opportunity?

    Question to reel guid and RepScot : do you think Craig’s idea is one that an SNP government of a future independent Scotland would be eager to take up?

    • reel guid

      Counter question to Charles Bostock: why assume any future governments of independent Scotland will be SNP ones?

    • Paul Greenwood

      Well once you distort a piece of metal it is not always possible to return it to its former state……….

      • Charles Bostock

        That is very true The events of the past few decades have certainly brought about many distortions, not least in people’s takes on life, how they view institutions, how they characterise the state and so on. And as you rightly say, once distorted it’s not easy to straighten up again.

  • Hatuey

    It’s a terrible idea that would result in a race to the bottom in terms of pay and workers’ rights.

    Why not simply offer people a fair wage for the work that needs to be done, with minimum wage and terms like everybody else?

    Why should the berry industry be singled out for this sort of special status? if they can’t afford to pay people a minimum wage, then they should fuck off out of the market and sign on themselves.

    I have absolutely zero reason to accept that owners of berry plantations deserve to be singled out and expect the taxpayer to subsidise the costs of their workforce. I say the same of steel workers, bankers, and everybody else.

    Play by the rules or don’t play at all.

    • Sharp Ears

      Thanks. We hope all are safe and well. At least they haven’t found him dead on Harrowdown Hill.

    • James

      Explosives? Sounds like §4 of the 1883 Act may rear its ugly head again. Not especially conversant with this Twilight Zone of high conjecture and skullduggery, I had never heard of Dr Chris ’til now, and had a decko at his form. Apart from being a very unconvincing speaker, he also seems a bit of a fruitloop. I read he keeps radioactive mud from Sellafield in his house. Bit potty, that.
      Let us hope he is able to convince a jury that he had the explosive substances or their precursors for the purpose of research and experimentation, otherwise he may be looking at a two-stretch.

      • Dennis Revell


        What explosive substances? No formulations at all were mentioned – just the intention of further analyis of some stuff that was found that Plod found weird – most likely because Plod didn’t have any in his home.

        As for the radioactive mud – it would only be mildly more radioactive than background – and there’s NOTHING unusual or potty about a former Nuclear expert maintaining an interest in the research that was part of his full time career. Perhaps there were aspects that he was alwayscurious to investigate that other duties when he was working didn’t allow time for. I guess as you have no interest in radioactive mud that strikes you as ‘potty’: a bit narrow minded of you.


  • Rowan

    Plenty of Raspberries in my local Co-Op (Hastings area), grown & picked locally too: Kent, in fact. They must have quietly replaced the casuals with regular armies of school-leavers getting work experience.

  • Clydebuilt

    At what point are Scottish Farmers going to decide that Independence from Westminster is the way forward for them.

  • giyane

    In fairness, if my memory serves me right , Labour were more ideologically driven by benefits recipients earning anything than the Trash and they were incredibly harsh on the self-employed and told me to my face they knew all the self-employed enjoyed massive hidden benefits and tax fiddles from their self-employment.

    Even in 1991 I remember scanning the job centre for jobs paid at £2.00 per hour. I got £4 as a building labourer, and then £5 as an electricians’ mate. At that time, recuperating from eviction from my house after divorce I rented a room at £20 per week and got that paid eventually by the council while on income support @ £45.00 per week. The housing benefit allowed me to keep a van to visit my kids.

    IMHO the reason Corbyn will never get into power is because the Tories were much kinder to those who were prepared to work freelance. We have all worked freelance ever since. Maybe computerisation of government checks enabled government to leave the lower earners alone, but penalties under Labour were much harsher because they always were and still are deeply prejudiced against people who do not have a regular job.
    Yes IMHO Corbyn still spouts this old labour tripe. Out of ignorance or dogma I know not, but memories die hard for those who were scared by the threat of getting found out.

  • Kenneth G Coutts

    I would like to know what these fruit growers paid the European
    I watched a documentary earlier in the year about 3 fruit growers in Scotland.
    One in particular had caravans for the European fruit pickers
    One interviewed was an engineering student.
    Another, was a female who stayed here all year round.
    No more folk were interviewed. Strange.
    All a bit vague, as was any in depth look at meals or food supplied and wage rates.
    Yet from way back the English media and growers slagged off
    The “British” youth, as lazy and slackers compared to Europeans.
    Yet no wage rates mentioned that would allow our youth to find it remunerative.
    I worked abroad and earned 5 times the amount I could earn
    At home including overtime two nights late, Saturdays and Sundays plus ghosters.
    That was then no way can this be done today.
    Fruit picking like any job has to be seen to provide people with a decent living regardless.
    Seems to me alot of the eastern Europeans working over here
    Earned 4 times more than a in their home country.
    And still send money home.
    Businesses over here have a poor attitude towards brit employees.

  • Sharp Ears

    Going Underground – Afshin Rattansi

    ‘Lord Mayor Magid on hostile foreign policy and police brutality with National Miners Union (E653)
    Published time: 12 Sep, 2018
    In this episode, we speak to Sheffield’s Lord Mayor Magid Magid about the UK government’s hostile foreign policy. Plus we hear from the General Secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers Chris Kitchen at NUM HQ in Barnsley and we go to the site of the Battle of Orgreave to speak to miner Kevin Horn, who was arrested on the day when 10,000 miners were attacked by thousands of police officers.’

  • Rennie Elliott

    Full agreement. In the USA we constantly hear how we have shortages of agricultural labor, and the late Sen. McCain claimed Americans were not willing to do this work. As my grandfather had an orchard and berry patch operation, my family spent most of our vacation time in some phase of operations, picking, cultivating, pruning, planting, etc. so we are no stranger to the work. Other reasons supporting your scheme of letting agricultural workers keep all their seasonal pay, include: One, It gives them a work history, they can prove they can be punctual and hard working. The longer you are unemployed, the LESS likely you are to be chosen by an employer. (In the USA once you no longer are on unemployment, no employer has a financial incentive from the government to hire you, you may as well be dead or claiming disability). Two, it gives them money in their pocket they can be proud of as having earned when they save or spend it. Three, when someone inquires what they are doing these days, they can say they are working, not on unemployment.

  • George

    That the young of today know nothing about Thatcher’s destruction of the coal industry and accept a world in which employers and landlords can do what they want is part of a long term public “re-education” programme whose aim is to re-introduce Dickensian Britain.

  • Disinterested Bystander

    I did apple picking on the Suffolk/Essex border during the 1990s. Due to ridiculous supermarket standards at least two thirds of the crop used to go to waste. The fruits had to be a minimum size and any below that dimension got thrown on the ground. Russeting was frowned upon so apples afflicted with that also got dropped. At least a third of the surface of Coxes had to be red. If not they got binned as well!

  • Mark

    Closing the coal mines was a good thing. It was no appropriate for young men to be doing that kind of work in the late 20th century. More cola mines closed under Wilson than Thatcher.

  • Julian Bohan

    I am not sure any UK employer, even a casual one, could tolerate the amount of time off people on benefits would need to keep up their benefits with interviews, medical exams, job seeking, filling in enormous forms that need replacing all over again, going between semi-connected offices, proving negatives to junior staff who might last a few months, etc.

    Back in http://www.the days of bureacrats proved unable to cope with my ever-changing circumstances, including a sausage roll, and are psychologically unable to face the reality of economic activity with no sausage role

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