There's an argument going on between my wife and various correspondents in the the comments section of this post below
about what subsidies mean for British farmers. I think Kris's most recent point about farmers actually contributing to the economy is the most important. Farmers do receive about 3 billion pounds a year in subsidies, but as this quite good Guardian article says,
Farming contributes £6.6bn a year to national income, uses around three quarters of this country's land area, and employs about half a million people.
So farming's net benefit to the UK is 3.6 billion plus unemployment benefit costs avoided of 2.5 billion (of course some of those employed in farming would find other jobs, but there would probably be other welfare benefits on top of unemployment). Moreover, consider this, also from the Guardian article:
A recent study from Deloitte and Touche showed that net farm income of a 200-hectare family farm had plunged from around £80,000 to £8,000 over the last five years, mainly because of falling commodity prices.
£8,000 is clearly not enough for a family to live on (it's below the US poverty level), so if this had happened in any sector, there would be calls for extra subsidies (I believe the figure includes the subsidies already received) to try to keep the industry alive. There are, of course, good arguments that if the small farming industry is uneconomic it should die, but I find it interesting that those who argued so passionately that the mines should be kept open are so loath to apply the same logic to farms. Moreover, it seems, as that quote suggests, that the farming industry is subject to cyclical variations and could become profitable again, unlike mining, where the commodity just isn't needed as much any more. If you believe in government intervention in industry -- as seems to be the consensus in the UK now -- then farming seems to be one of the better cases for it.
Anyway, the farming industry remains a net benefit to the UK economy. The urban poor, on the other hand, is a definite cost. Ceteris paribus (and other things are not equal in this case -- whatever Mike Scott says there is a consistent 5% greater unemployment rate in urban centers than in rural areas), they receive about 75 billion in subsidies each year in welfare benefits alone. They receive a whole host of benefits in kind that could also be regarded as subsidies besides things paid for out of the Social Security budget.
Moreover, Mike is playing a nice statistical sleight of hand in this part of his post:
There are at most half a million farmers in the UK. They receive £3 billion per year in government subsidies. That's over £6,000 per head of the farming population.
Around 5% of the urban population is unemployed. The average benefit paid to unemployed people is around £5000 per year. The amount per head of the urban population is thus about £250.
Mike's comparing the farming population to the entire urban population. There are 15 million people who live in rural areas, so the average subsidy per head of rural population is about £200. Of course, there are rural unemployed too, who, ceteris paribus, will get about £3.75 billion in unemployment benefit, compared to the £11.25 billion received by urban dwellers. I'd venture to suggest that far more of the other social security benefits go to urban dwellers than country dwellers, probably easily cancelling out that £200 difference. I agree that provision of other services like health to country dwellers is more expensive, but the actual utility of these services is the question, and rural response rates for police and ambulance arrival times show that the utility of those services, at least, is much less for rural dwellers. So, despite government paying more, the value of the services to country dwellers is less. If we count them as "subsidies," then the Government is giving more to urban dwellers, despite what it says in the accounts.