Rural areas don’t have poverty, do they?

Mark Shucksmith is Director of the Newcastle Institute for Social Renewal.

You don’t find poverty in rural areas, do you? Surely it’s towns and cities that have poverty…?

In Britain, people think those lucky enough to live in rural areas must be well-off, contented, secure. Isn’t that what it looks like on CountryFile, or Escape to the Country?

Nevertheless, many people in rural Britain do experience hidden poverty, financial vulnerability and social exclusion. A recent study showed that 50% of residents in rural Britain experienced at least one spell of poverty during 1991-2008, a proportion only slightly lower than in urban Britain (55%).

The Financial Conduct Authority calculated in 2018 that 54% of rural dwellers are financially vulnerable, compared to 48% of urban dwellers.

Our ‘On The Margins’ project shines a light on financial hardship and vulnerability in Britain’s countryside, seeking to understand how rural poverty is experienced and what might be done to address it. How is it different being poor in a rural area? Are different solutions necessary?

We are currently undertaking fieldwork in three study areas in Scotland and England. But we already know some of the key dimensions of rural poverty:

  • There is more poverty-in-work in rural areas, and more persistent low pay, unless you commute to a higher paid job in an urban centre.
  • Housing is more expensive in Britain’s countryside, where there is also much less social housing.
  • Distances make it difficult to access jobs, services and advice. A car is essential, even if you can’t afford one. And poor broadband speeds and mobile signals hamper digital access.
  • Citizens in rural areas are less likely to claim the welfare benefits to which they are entitled, for a variety of reasons. One study showed that 42% of people in rural areas failed to claim their pension credit entitlement compared to 35% in urban areas.
  • Rural poverty tends to be invisible to policy makers, who often fail to consider rural contexts, blinded by the rural idyll which dominates our view of rural lives.

You probably don’t see the foodbanks in rural Britain either, but they are there…

Mark Shucksmith is part of a team conducting a project looking at rural poverty which is funded by SLF.