Striking findings from research released by Seafarers UK last week revealed the bleak financial reality of small-scale fishers in the UK, particularly share fishers. The comprehensive report, authored in partnership with Liverpool John Moores University, set the stage for urgent, collaborative action to tackle financial literacy and planning among fishing communities, to improve both financial resilience and mental wellbeing. Thursday 8 October saw the first steps to mobilise action, as Seafarers UK hosted an event to mark the launch of a new programme of work inspired by the research.
The two-hour event, chaired by Seafarers UK CEO Catherine Spencer, featured lively and informative presentations from a number of noteworthy panellists. An illuminating overview of the research findings were presented, as well as thought-provoking discussion on the burden experienced by women as ‘invisible’ and ‘informal’ safety nets within fishing families – something that Seafarers UK plans to address with a unique ‘women’s network’. This is the first time the research has been publicly presented and findings were well-received by a wide-ranging audience. Fisheries Minister, Victoria Prentis MP, who contributed to the event via a recorded message, supports both the research and the work it has sparked. Minister Prentis said: ‘Small-scale fishing is a cornerstone of local coastal communities around our shores.
‘I hope that the insights that this report provides will assist in improving the financial health and resilience of our fishermen across the country, as together we tackle COVID-19 and embrace the opportunities ahead as an independent coastal state.’
Despite the report exposing a devastating reality for many fishers, Thursday’s event was optimistic, introducing recommendations for actions to create positive change. Deborah Layde, Grants Director at Seafarers UK, outlined ten bold policy and charity recommendations put forward in the research. Proposals included the implementation of a national action plan to address the social, economic and environmental issues faced by the small-scale coastal fishing fleet, and schemes to support new entrants into the sector.
A key finding of the research was the lack of appropriate financial services available to fishers. In response to this, Seafarers UK plans to launch a ‘Fairness in Fishing’ fair pay campaign. This campaign will replicate the benefits, fair compensation, and protections afforded to PAYE employees, whilst still allowing share fishers to retain their autonomy and flexibility – something that the research showed was highly prized amongst fishing communities.
Central to the ‘Fairness in Fishing’ campaign is a newly devised ‘share fisher plus’ cooperative approach, for which Seafarers UK would take on the role of lead sponsor. This innovative model, detailed in the event by Deborah Layde, would support fishers in accessing a range of suitable, competitively priced financial products – such as pensions, illness and critical injury insurance and life assurance – through group purchasing. A feasibility study has been launched to explore uptake and potential delivery mechanisms for this approach.
Commenting on the value of such a structure to the fishing industry, Barrie Deas, CEO of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, said: ‘I was delighted to take part in the panel session for the ‘Fishing Without a Safety Net’ webinar. The financial resilience of fishing communities is a vital issue and central to a modern and successful fishing industry. The NFFO prides itself in the welfare of its members which is why I am pleased to remain in close dialogue with Seafarers UK and support their work moving forwards.’
Dr Paul A Jones, author of the report and Reader in the Social Economy at Liverpool John Moores University, said ‘whilst the report reveals challenges and vulnerabilities of life as an inshore, share fisher, it also indicates a range of possible interventions that, if implemented, could provide a safety net for people working in the industry and facilitate the financial health and resilience of fishers, their families and coastal communities. This event marks the beginning of change.’
The report emphasises that changes need to be collaborative and occur at both individual and structural levels. Proposed interventions are as varied as up-skilling individuals’ financial literacy, to developing a national credit union, which would provide fishers with access to affordable credit and budgeting accounts for tax and National Insurance. ‘We recognise the recommendations are ambitious and challenging’, Deborah Layde remarked. ‘We cannot achieve this on our own. Hopefully today’s event will be a catalyst for good ideas and knowledge sharing.’
The event closed with an extensive and exploratory question and answer session, with participants keen to discuss a range of relevant issues, from offshore wind farm developments to fishing sustainably. Seafarers UK invites views and ideas from more stakeholders – contact firstname.lastname@example.org.