Kerry Booth is the Chief Executive Designate for the Rural Services Network.
The Rural Services Network, a membership organisation representing English rural councils and other rural services providers has recently published research into the rural cost of living crisis. This shows that higher domestic and transport energy poverty, coupled with lower wages, pushes rural areas into a cost-of-living emergency.
Higher costs impact rural residents
Rural residents are facing a huge challenge as those working in rural communities earn much less than urban residents, yet still face significantly higher costs across key aspects of living including heating, transport, house prices, rent, food prices, child-care costs and council tax.
The research found that homes in rural areas tend to be less energy efficient and rural households also face a greater fuel poverty gap with the reduction in fuel bills needed to take rural households out of full poverty at £501, compared to an England average of £223. With many rural properties less energy efficient and off the gas grid, the estimated energy cost is 10 percent higher in rural areas, increasing up to as much as 17 percent in Yorkshire and the Humber. And with soaring energy bills and increased price cap, these prices are set to increase further.
Rural residents tend to rely on a car, with poor public transport links and often non existent bus routes and are therefore hit by the increase in fuel costs, with an average increase of 50% per week increase in spend on transport compared to urban households.
Despite rural areas facing higher costs, wages are also lower, with the average for rural areas 6 percent lower than those working in urban areas. This increases to 12 percent among employees with the lowest earnings, leaving the most vulnerable families unable to cope with soaring costs.
Rural populations are also confronted with a housing crisis where soaring housing and rental costs, combined with a 224 percent increase in demand for each available property since pre-pandemic levels, has created the perfect storm.
Rural house prices are 39 percent higher than in urban areas across England (excluding London), with rural villages and hamlets increasing to 55 percent higher. Prices have risen 10 percent between 2020 and 2021 in rural areas, with some rural and coastal areas rising at three times the national rate, such as North Devon and Richmondshire.
Rural renters are also facing similar pricing struggles, with prices jumping by 11 percent since the pandemic, compared to just 2 percent in urban areas. This is particularly affecting rural households on low incomes who now spend 47 percent of their earnings on rent compared to 43 percent in urban areas and that’s if you can find a property, as the availability of rural rental accommodation has dropped 61 percent since the pandemic.
How can the Government help?
Graham Biggs, Chief Executive of the Rural Services Network, comments:
“The cost of living is a significant issue for all people and businesses across England, but rural areas have systematically faced higher costs and disadvantages compared to urban counterparts, which is leaving communities more vulnerable.
“The government must overcome policy silos and develop an integrated approach that recognises the multiple forms of disadvantage rural areas face. This should include levelling up the rural economy to ensure that low wage levels can be improved, as well as supporting rural houses to become more energy efficient to help get families out of fuel poverty.
“Out-dated infrastructure and a legacy of other factors, such as poor transport and broadband connectivity, employment opportunities and housing demand, means that rural areas are at greater risk of being left yet further behind in the cost-of-living crisis.”