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Polish agricultural workers in Lincolnshire

last modified Apr 10, 2016 11:03 AM

Trevor owns a mid sized farm in Lincolnshire. He welcomed us for the day to talk with him and some of his staff about what motivates EU nationals to come to the UK and their experiences when they are here. 

'They want to work with us because we're working with them', Trevor tells me. Almost all of his workforce is Polish and Trevor tells me that most agricultural workers in Lincolnshire come from South West Poland. 'Go into any big business and ask who are the best employees', Trevor says. 'They will say Polish and Lithuanian.'

'There are no English people in the fields because they are no good: a cabbage is too heavy for them.'

When I ask Trevor what he thinks motivates EU nationals to come to the UK, he says:

'100% better pay - for a better life.'

I ask Trevor's Polish manager, Andreas, what brought him to Lincolnshire and he says:

'The value of the Great British Pound definitely. I could live better in Italy or Spain in sunshine. And also to get away from my ex wife! I've lived here for a long time now and it would be hard to return and restart a life in Poland. I don't know how much money I need there any more for a normal life. I'd be lost.'

There is obvious confusion and some anxiety about what would follow a vote to leave the EU in June. Trevor tells me that he annually spends £1.5m on migrant seasonal labour and it is far from obvious to him how he could find a workforce of such high quality and size without bringing in overseas workers. Andreas tells me that many staff (himself included) have bought houses in the UK. 'What do I have to do? Sell my house?', he asked. 'Lots of our staff are permanent. They already have national insurance numbers so how could the Government stop them working?'

Our conversation turns to benefits. Andreas says that he believes that the behaviours of some Polish people, who have lived in the UK for several years, have changed to emulate British people:

'You see so many English people out of work walking around town with all of their kids. They are surviving by claiming the benefits and some Polish people are learning this and doing the same.'

But for Trevor and Andreas the debate is not really about Polish people. They tell me that it is really about 'Islamophobia, Syrians and Iraqis'. They say that these people are 'used to living on the streets so sharing in one room with ten people is fine for them. Everything is better than their previous lives. The gap between their economies and societies and life in the UK is too big.'

'Some people don't want to better themselves. They are content just to survive and take benefits. They don't have work in the blood. If the Government stops paying benefits the people who will go down is the English because we know how to live and work without benefits.'