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Media reporting of labour shortages in UK horticulture during the COVID-19 pandemic: the use of wartime metaphors in the selective unveiling of precarious work/workers

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posted on 2023-11-02, 11:21 authored by Sam Scott, Karen OReillyKaren OReilly
Over the 21st century almost all of the UK's harvest labour has been foreign-bom. The COVID-19 crisis (from March 2020) threatened UK food security by limiting this supply of low-wage foreign labour into the UK. In response a national campaign was launched to get a domestic 'Land Army' to 'Feed the Nation' and 'Pick for Britain' (the three main epithets used). The article profiles this campaign. We show that the COVID-19 crisis put low-wage harvest labour into the spotlight when this labour is usually hidden from public view. Potentially, such unveiling could have challenged the economics of the food production system. However, we argue that the rupture was stage-managed by invoking a wartime rhetoric and three key concomitant roles of the victim-hero farmer, the good migrant, and the reluctant British-based understudy. These emphasised the valiant nature of harvest work and framed migrant workers as (temporary) heroes helping to save the nation. In contrast, British-based workers' reluctance to embrace precarious work was framed as personal deficiency rather than a structural failure to create decent jobs. In all, the spotlight cast on the low-wage rural economy by the COVID-19 crisis was carefully targeted and stage-managed and did not challenge the persistence of precarious horticultural work.

History

School

  • Social Sciences and Humanities

Department

  • Criminology, Sociology and Social Policy

Published in

Estudios Geográficos

Volume

83

Issue

293

Publisher

Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC)

Version

  • VoR (Version of Record)

Rights holder

© Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC)

Publisher statement

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).

Acceptance date

2022-03-22

Publication date

2022-12-16

Copyright date

2022

ISSN

0014-1496

eISSN

1988-8546

Language

  • en

Depositor

Prof Karen O'Reilly. Deposit date: 1 November 2023

Article number

e109

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