RURAL local authorities face big challenges when it comes to providing services for older people in the countryside, suggests a study.
The warning comes in a report examining social isolation experienced by older people in England's rural areas.
Spending reductions are leading to changes in the way that public services such as care, housing and transport are provided in rural areas, it says.
Published by the Commission for Rural Communities, the report considers the impact of change on the lives of older people.
Some 23% of the rural population are over retirement age compared to 18% in urban areas, and the proportion is expected to rise, it says.
Providing social care to older people is more costly in rural communities than in urban, warns the document.
Older rural dwellers receive lower personal budgets than urban dwellers for comparable needs while having to pay more for the services they receive, it adds.
Government proposals to increase the level of funding available to rural local authorities are welcome, says the report, but unlikely to address the greater imbalance.
The study, which looks at a number of areas, says community transport is increasingly important as the number of scheduled bus services in rural areas falls.
The commission suggests that the government investigates offering older people a personal budget for transport, to replace the concessionary fares system.
On housing, the commission says people tend to have changing needs as they grow older.
It calls for a wider range of housing, or housing adaptations, to be available – either rented or privately owned.
The National Planning Policy Framework will help determine the numbers and types of housing available, says the study, and the government should monitor its success.
Volunteer-run projects, led by local communities working with private or public sector bodies, have made have made a big difference to the lives of older rural people, the report says.
This success could be enhanced further, at minimal cost, if mentoring or leadership training were available to volunteers wishing to establish or manage community activities.
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