Benefits claimants should be stripped of welfare unless they pick fruit and vegetables on farms, a minister has said.
Farming Minister George Eustice, also a Westcountry MP whose family run a strawberry farm in Cornwall, insisted there would be no replacement for the abolished Seasonal Agricultural Workers scheme that provided 22,000 foreigners a year with temporary permits to enter Britain to harvest crops.
Instead, local unemployed people should be recruited to do the work, he said.
Mr Eustice told the National Farmers’ Union conference in Birmingham: “I know that some people would say you won’t get them to do this work, they don’t want to do it.
“As a government we shouldn’t really tolerate that attitude that says we are going to pay people to stay on benefits because they don’t want to do certain types of farming work.”
Mr Eustice, MP for Camborne and Redruth, said: “We don’t think it is acceptable that people who could work do not because they think there is something unglamorous about farm work.
“We are doing a number of things, including getting people who live locally to take some of these jobs, to make sure it’s factored into the work that the Department for Work and Pensions is doing.
“Sometimes the barrier is that people feel it is not worth coming off benefits for a month or six weeks because they then have the difficulty of getting back on those benefits. That is something we are trying to address.”
Mr Eustice added: “Frankly, we need to try to make sure we make it easier for people who live locally who are on benefits but could work to take these jobs in agriculture. I know, having worked in farming myself, how challenging that can be.”
NFU president Peter Kendall accused the Government of attempting a “social engineering experiment”.