28 June 2002

Frontline against F&M

JOHN Basnett was on duty 24 hours a day. At the height of the foot-and-mouth crisis, Mr Basnetts role as north-east welfare officer for Royal Agricul-tural Benevolent Institution (RABI) put him in the frontline of the fight against F&M.

Even during a four-hour shift, it was common to field up to 50 calls from worried farmers and their families. Today, the TV cameras have gone but Mr Basnett is still busy assisting farms which escaped the cull but are continuing to suffer financial hardship as a result of the disease. Increased awareness about RABI and other charitable organisations has highlighted welfare cases that previously went undetected, says Mr Basnett.

"The crisis put us in the spotlight and that has meant we have been able to make contact with a number of elderly farmers we never knew about before," he explains. "Many are disabled or unwell. And although most live on a pittance, they are too proud to accept state benefits, even though they are entitled to them. But when I can persuade them to accept the help they have every right to receive, it can make a great difference to their lives."

A former policeman who joined RABI three years ago, Mr Basnett says many of the skills he learned in the police force have proved useful in his current role. "Good listening skills are one of the most important requirements for this job. For some talking about their problems comes as a relief. I can see it in their faces when they tell me all about what happened on their farms."

But RABI can do more than just listen. "We can help out financially in many cases offering assistance with domestic bills to provide breathing space when times are tight. And some of our elderly clients become beneficiaries, so they receive a regular payment to top up their pensions," he says.

One positive legacy of the crisis is that it brought together organisations from different sectors of society. "Many organisations work much more closely together to provide a co-ordinated effort. We now have a greater awareness about what other people are doing to help. This allows us to point people in the right direction if RABI cannot assist," says Mr Basnett.