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JRF: Country life - tougher to make ends meet

23 Nov 2010 07:21 AM

New research released today shows people living in rural areas typically need to spend 10-20% more than people in urban areas to reach a minimum acceptable living standard.

These higher costs mean a single person living in a village needs to earn at least 50% above the minimum wage (£5.93 per hour) to make ends meet.

With low pay more common in rural areas, many rural workers fall well short of being able to afford their essential needs.

The research was carried out for the Commission for Rural Communities by the same team at Loughborough University that calculates the Joseph Rowntree Foundation's Minimum Income Standard for the United Kingdom. This standard is based on what items ordinary people think households need to afford a minimum acceptable standard of living. The researchers talked to groups of people in rural England about what things are essential in rural towns, villages and hamlets.

The findings illustrate that the more remote the area, the greater the extra expense. To afford a minimum standard of living, a single person needs to earn at least: 

  • £15,600 a year in a rural town
  • £17,900 a year in a village
  • £18,600 in a hamlet or the remote countryside. 
  • In comparison, urban dwellers need £14,400, to meet the specified minimum. 

 

The report also found: 

  • A car is a significant additional cost for rural households because residents say public transport is insufficient to meet essential travel needs. 
  • Many rural dwellers face higher energy bills. (The lack of mains gas supply can mean having to use more expensive fuels, and older homes in rural areas can be less energy efficient.)
  • The location of rural services also has an impact on the cost of living, and this could be exacerbated if local services are cut.
  • For most other areas of household spending, including food and clothing, minimum needs are broadly the same in urban and in rural areas. 

 

For some people the picture is even starker: the largest additional budgets in the study are required by couple parents with two children. In a hamlet this family needs £72.20 more per week than a similar urban family. An online calculator at www.minimumincome.org.uk allows individuals to work out their minimum earnings requirement adjusted for the number and ages of people in their household and whether they live in a city, town, village or hamlet.

The higher costs of living in rural areas contrast with widespread low rural pay. A worker in a rural district has a one in four higher chance of being low paid than someone in an urban district. 

Report author Dr Noel Smith, Acting Director of Loughborough University's Centre for Research in Social Policy said:

"This research shows many similarities in the living patterns and minimum expectations of people in rural and urban parts of the United Kingdom. However, people in rural areas identified some crucial differences, particularly their transport needs. In most cases, they consider cars to be essential, whereas discussions among residents of urban areas concluded that a combination of buses and the occasional taxi could meet minimum travel requirements. Another important reality of rural areas is the extra cost to heat traditional rural housing without gas central heating, compared to modern city homes. 

"We were struck by the gap between how much people would need to earn to meet these rural requirements and the level of some of the wages actually available. Workers in the most basic rural jobs can work very hard yet still fall well short of what they need for an acceptable standard of living."

Nicola Lloyd, Executive Director at the Commission for Rural Communities, said:

"Although it is now widely recognised that one in five rural households experience poverty, this is the first time we've also had reliable data to show the minimum cost of living in the countryside is higher than in the city. The rural minimum income standard clearly shows that many ordinary families living in rural areas will struggle to afford the everyday essentials; for some this will make rural life unsustainable.

"The high cost of transport and household fuel are likely to be particular problems for rural families with low incomes. The CRC's recent work on fuel poverty and promoting greater energy efficiency offers ways for government and others to help to reduce these costs. We would also like to see developments which lessen the need for expensive travel to reach essential services, such as greater access to broadband and mobile technology, and creative solutions to providing employment and services closer to home."

Joseph Rowntree Foundation Chief Executive, Julia Unwin CBE, said:

"We know cuts in public expenditure and the impact of the recession is putting pressure on services, employers and families, and many people find it hard to make ends meet. 

"This important research helps to show how disadvantage is not just an urban phenomenon. If society is to agree that people in rural areas should be able to meet a minimum income standard, then we need to start planning for that now, so that improvements in the economy can be reflected in better living standards for people whether they are in cities, towns, villages, or beyond."