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Rural Poverty

UK Government failing rural people living in poverty, say experts

Published on: 13 March 2023

The needs of the poorest and most vulnerable people living in the countryside are ignored by the UK Government in a way that would not be acceptable in urban areas, say academics in a new book.

Neglected communities

In, Rural Poverty Today, researchers from Newcastle University, Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) and Inverness Impact-Hub, take a close look at the issues facing the poorest people living in the British countryside.

Rural Poverty Today is published as the issues facing rural communities are being raised by the Chair of the Rural Coalition, the Bishop of St Albans, at the highest levels.

They say voluntary groups, charities and communities are left to fill the gaps left by the UK Government’s neglect of rural communities in its policies.
“Nobody should be disadvantaged because of where they live,” says Mark Shucksmith, Professor of Planning at Newcastle University who is one of the book’s authors. “But poor and vulnerable people in rural areas very much are. Life is tough for anyone living in poverty but those who live in the countryside face a very specific set of additional challenges.

“Rural citizens should expect fairness and similar rights of citizenship - that is, fair outcomes including access to services which meet needs, investment in social and economic infrastructure, transparent decisions based on evidence, equal opportunities to participate in society, and a fair hearing and an effective voice in decision making.”

Kielder Water in the North Tyne Valley

Catch 22

The challenges facing people in the countryside include a lack of public transport, lack of affordable food, seasonal working patterns and unreliable mobile phone coverage and internet access. “If you’re receiving benefits you will be told to attend an appointment many miles away,” Professor Shucksmith said. “But how are you going to get there if you don’t have a car and there are no buses or trains where you live? If you don’t attend the meeting you won’t get the benefits you rely on. So what do you do? It’s a Catch 22 situation that many people living in rural areas face.”

“The rising cost of living is also hitting households in rural Britain even harder than those in towns and cities,” explains Dr Jane Atterton of Scotland’s Rural College. "This is because they have to spend a higher proportion of their household income on fuel for transport and on heating their homes which tend to be older, poorly insulated and often not connected to mains energy supplies.”

The book takes a close look at the three different parts of the country: East Perthshire, the Isle of Harris and the North Tyne Valley in Northumberland. While each area had its own unique characteristics, there were similarities in the challenges facing their residents.
The researchers heard how the complicated benefits system puts people at a disadvantage, particularly those with poor digital skills or lacking internet or mobile phone access. The benefits system is not designed to deal with the irregular incomes of people doing seasonal work and can actually exacerbate financial hardship for the people it is meant to help.

Another issue is the way poverty can be hidden in the countryside. Some rural dwellers don’t claim benefits they are entitled to, preferring to get by and to rely on friends and family, often due to the stigma attached. Also, the affluence of many incomers can obscure the hardships of others.

“There is a tendency to idealise rural communities as places where everyone looks after one another, and it would seem that this reputation for self- help and social cohesion legitimises the state withdrawing welfare services from rural areas,” said Professor Shucksmith. “This idea that rural communities can just look after themselves is not based in reality and it is causing some of the people who live in them harm.”

Rural Poverty Today is written by Mark Shucksmith, Jayne Glass, Polly Chapman and Jane Atterton. It is published by Policy Press. 


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