Cost-of-living crisis in the countryside

The below article written by RSN Chair Cecilia Motley is featured in this months Local Government First (click here to view this article)
(NB it was written for publication before Liz Truss MP resigned as Prime Minister)

During our National Rural Conference 2022, in late September, the Rural Services Network published research into the cost-of-living crisis

This showed that rural communities are being pushed into a cost-of-living emergency by a triple blow of higher domestic and transport energy poverty, and lower wages.

The theme of the conference, ‘Reducing rural inequality and improving opportunities’, emphasised the need for the Government to take action before the gap between rural and urban areas becomes insurmountable.

The research found that rural residents working in rural economies earn much less than urban residents, yet face significantly higher costs across key aspects of living.

These include heating, transport, house prices, rent, food prices, childcare costs and council tax.

In addition, the fuel-poverty gap is significantly larger in rural areas. The latest data from 2020 shows that the reduction in fuel bills needed to take rural households out of full poverty is £501, compared with an average in England of £223.

If you add in the significant increases of the past year, this puts rural residents at an even greater disadvantage.

Delegate numbers at our conference were 50 per cent higher compared with last year, showing the increased importance of discussion that solely focuses on rural policy and solutions.

The conference included a keynote session from the then Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs’ Minister Lord Benyon who stressed the importance of the need to “not just level up, but also level out, out of the town to the village and beyond”. He also highlighted the need to improve digital connectivity in rural areas, an important driver of productivity.

A number of challenges were raised by speakers and delegates at the conference. These included the impact of second homes and holiday rentals on the housing market in key rural hotspots. This has led to a significant reduction in the rental housing market, causing serious difficulties for those on local wages trying to access affordable housing.

The lack of public transport options, and the fact that few rural areas were awarded bus service improvement plan funding, will continue to have a major impact on rural communities’ ability to access health services, education, skills training and employment.

The lack of digital connectivity can also have a negative impact on residents’ ability to access health and care services, as well as other vital public services and training and employment opportunities.

Productivity and wages are lower in rural areas, which demonstrates the need for a specific rural approach from the Government to help deal with this pernicious inequality.

Rural areas also suffer from a greater fuel-poverty gap than urban areas.

The current government policy of making off-grid homes move to heat pump heating systems much earlier than those on the Grid will force rural residents to shoulder a significant financial burden to ensure their homes are energy efficient, often costing tens of thousands of pounds.

The Prime Minister and her Government must take bold and speedy action to develop rural-specific policies and a fair funding approach to rural public services. 

They must devise rural-friendly policies to rapidly reduce inequality and enable our rural communities to take advantage of opportunities and realise their full potential – to the benefit of rural economies and the country as a whole.


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