Headlines: July 16th, 2008

More people in rural areas are living in poverty, according to the Commission for Rural Communities in its ‘State of the countryside 2008’ report, which is published today. The report, the tenth in a series giving a definitive picture of rural England, also points to concerns over the decline in services and the challenge of meeting the need for affordable homes.

The reports says that rural economies continue to show inherent strengths, such as a higher rate of business start-ups than in urban areas and an overall growth in the number of businesses compared to a net decline in towns and cities. But it says wages in the countryside are still low for many people so that being in work is not a secure route out of poverty.

Figures show poverty is increasing at a faster rate in the countryside – three per cent – than elsewhere and that about a fifth of households now live below the poverty line. There are also signs of growing inequalities within rural areas themselves. In the poorest fifth of homes half the weekly income goes on food, housing, energy, transport and other essentials compared with 39 per cent in the highest income rural households and 47 per cent in the poorest urban households.

The report highlights communities’ worries over declining services and says that in each of the last ten years the Commission has found fewer outlets for many services and increasing problems of access to services for people without cars. There has been a marked rise in internet use but the availability of high-speed broadband remains low in sparsely populated areas.

Housing affordability continues to be worse in rural areas, the report says. Last year the average price of a home in the countryside was 257,600 pounds, more than 50,000 pounds above the cost of an average urban home. The cost of a house is 6.8 times the annual rural household income, compared to 5.8 times in urban areas and in some sparsely populated districts the price of a home can be almost ten times the annual income.