25 September 1998

RABI only scratching the surface

LIVESTOCK and hill farmers have made the most calls received by the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institutions helpline since it was set up last April.

To date, 200 calls have been received and £30,000 has been paid from RABIs emergency fund to help farmers through the financial crisis.

The average figure paid out is £500, but sums below £100 have also been granted. Typically, the money has been used to pay household bills, for example to prevent electricity supplies being cut off or to clear debts, such as accounts held at local food shops.

But, despite the offer of help, RABI spokesman Nicholas Bond said it had been difficult to get producers to take the initial step and call the helpline.

"We are only scratching the surface of the problem with the numbers we are receiving. It seems producers are reluctant to ring the line because they take their financial difficulties personally."

Mr Bond added that, as well as providing financial help, the helpline operators could offer advice in some circumstances.

"Many producers do not realise that they are eligible for financial aid from social security which might just make the difference and see them through this difficult period," he said.

The Samaritans rural programme co-ordinator Judie Grimshaw agreed that encouraging farmers to take the first step and ring for help was a major hurdle in providing help.

She said the farming industry now had a suicide rate five times above the UK average. "Many farmers, particularly those farming in isolated regions, arent accustomed to thinking about the value of emotional support that can be gained from talking through problems."

The problems are more acute in upland areas where isolation adds another barrier to communicating and for those who have had their farms handed down over many generations who now blame themselves for financial difficulties, Ms Grimshaw added. &#42

Jonathan Riley

Who to contact

Samaritans 0345-909090.

RABI helpline 01865-727888.