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Rural Farmers and Communities

Volume 730: debated on Thursday 30 March 2023

1. What steps she is taking with Cabinet colleagues to support the mental wellbeing of farmers and other members of rural communities. (904404)

The Department’s farm welfare forum brings together England’s largest farming welfare organisations, many of which provide excellent mental health support. In October last year we opened the third phase of our future farming resilience fund. It provides free expert business advice to farmers and supports mental health and wellbeing where appropriate.

We know that farmers are among those at the highest risk of suicide. In light of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee inquiry on rural community mental health, and the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution report on mental health in farming, what more can we do to support the mental wellbeing of our rural communities and farmers?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his work in this area. DEFRA supports community action to tackle loneliness in rural areas via our ongoing funding of Action with Communities in Rural England, and initiatives that address the mental health impacts of social isolation. We have worked with the Yellow Wellies charity to provide advice and information to delivery partners on how to identify potential mental health issues, and tools for addressing them. We also regularly bring together rural community organisations to look into issues around transport connectivity and community in a rural context.

Mental illness among farmers is greatly increasing across the whole United Kingdom. Rural Support has revealed that hundreds of farmers in Northern Ireland are suffering from mental health issues. What discussions has the Minister had with the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs back home in relation to additional support for our farmers? We could deal with issue this better together across the whole United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we always have conversations with our colleagues across devolved Administrations. As he identifies, this is a very important issue. Together, we can encourage conversations and support through various charities. Of course, the Government will play their part in those conversations and in supporting of those charities.