9 November 2001

Now one in three women forced to find extra work

By Adrienne Francis

MORE women than ever before are being forced to leave their family farms to find additional work, reveals a recent survey.

One in three farm women are supplementing falling incomes by taking jobs such as teachers, nurses, secretaries and working in local government, claims the Womens Food and Farming Union (WFU). In 1999, only one in 10 farm women worked off-farm, says the organisation.

WFU president, Janet Godfrey, described the trend as "alarming". The implications for rural life are "quite frightening," she said. It is often farm women who do the accounts and start new farm enterprises. They are already involved in 80% of diversification projects. But many now work long hours away from home as well.

Some rural women are returning to work at an age when their city counterparts can afford to retire. Edith Critchley of Staffordshire WFU left her position on the family dairy farm two years ago. She now works for a local hospice. "Once the farming crisis took hold on milk prices, I needed to find additional work – at 58 years of age," she said.

Working long hours leaves less time to take part in voluntary activities. Parish councils, school governing bodies, churches and village halls are all under pressure. Sue Kinnersley of Warwickshire WFU is a Girl Guide leader. She said: "Many women simply havent got enough time anymore. All voluntary work is struggling and the guiding movement is having an awfully difficult time."

Speaking at the Womens Food and Farming Union annual general meeting earlier this month, DEFRA secretary Margaret Beckett, acknowledged that ready-made jobs for rural women were difficult to find. It was hard to fit additional work around family life and looking after children, she added.

Even so, women make a vital contribution to the countryside, said Mrs Beckett. "Women hold together the fabric of rural life, from being community transport drivers to campaigning on local issues," she told conference delegates.

"Your contribution is incalculable and invaluable." &#42