Headlines: November 25th, 2009

Poor families in rural areas are missing out on services that families in towns and cities take for granted, including primary healthcare, continuing education, childcare and employment. The Commission for Rural Communities, the Government’s adviser on rural affairs, has called for action.

The Commission’s report, ‘Peace and quiet disadvantage’ gives insights from users and providers of children’s centres in rural communities. It reveals that while the countryside is widely believed to provide a safe and healthy environment for children, for parents lacking jobs and transport the realities of day-to-day living are extremely harsh and the impact of the current recession has made life even harder.

The study on which the report is based, found that among workless families in rural areas, nearly half report chronic health problems and more than half said their children had additional needs or health problems. Some families are missing out on key services such as healthcare, particularly dental care, because of the distances involved in accessing services.

The service most parents say needs significant improvement is transport. Those living in smaller villages said public transport was expensive and hopelessly inadequate. Some parents on very low incomes have no choice but to pay for expensive taxis in order to get their weekly shopping, because there is no bus on the particular route.

Among families where no-one is in work, half of the parents want help in gaining qualifications and support to find employment. Others wanting to work shifts cannot find suitable childcare to fit the times when the work is available.

The Commission calls on local councils to make a commitment to removing the barriers to training and employment and other public services. Forthcoming child poverty legislation will create a new statutory responsibility to develop a needs assessment and strategy to reduce child poverty within council areas. In undertaking or commissioning needs assessments in rural areas, it will be important to ensure that families lacking transport to access health and other services and families where no-one is working are accurately identified and consulted about help that they need.