Living costs in UK 'up to 20% higher for remote areas'

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A thatched cottage in Somerset
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The expense of accessing services for those living in rural areas pushed up living costs, research found

People in rural areas in England need to take home up to 20% more than those in urban areas to reach an acceptable living standard, according to a report.

The Commission for Rural Communities said someone in a remote village needed £18,600 a year to get by, compared with £14,400 for an urban dweller.

It means a villager must earn about 50% above the minimum wage of £5.93 an hour to reach a minimum living standard.

The report cited transport and fuel as the main extra cost burdens.

Falling short

A team from Loughborough University that calculates the Joseph Rowntree Foundation's minimum income standard index carried out the research for the CRC.

This index is based on what items people think households need to be able to afford to achieve a minimum acceptable living standard.

The report found that, with low pay more common in rural areas, many rural workers fall well short of being able to afford their essential needs.

The findings show that the more remote the area, the greater the extra costs.

According to the report, 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.

When factors such as taxes and tax credits are taken into account, that equates to a difference with the urban figure of £14,400 in take home pay of 10-20%, researchers said.

'Wage gap'

The report also found:

  • A car is a significant additional cost for rural households because people said public transport is inadequate
  • Many rural dwellers face higher energy bills because they are not always connected to mains gas, so must use other fuels
  • In a hamlet, a family of four needs £72.20 more per week than a similar urban family

The report's author, Dr Noel Smith, said: "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 CRC, 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."

She said there were ways to lessen the need for expensive travel to reach essential services in rural communities.

These included greater access to broadband and mobile technology, "and creative solutions to providing employment and services closer to home", Ms Lloyd said.

Mark Littlewood, director general of the Institute of Economic Affairs, told the BBC the picture was more complicated than the report suggested.

But he said: "It does show that poverty is very different in different areas of the United Kingdom... that the sort of policies we need to tackle extreme poverty in, say, Tower Hamlets are very different from the sort of measures we need to tackle extreme poverty in the Shetland Islands or in Cornwall.

"So I think what it shows is that we need to take a very decentralised approach to tackling poverty, to welfare and to getting people back to work.

"I would be extremely keen to see budgets transferred to, say, Cornwall County Council and for different local areas to experiment with different schemes."

Mr Littlewood also pointed out that the challenges in one rural area differed to those in another. For example, in a tourism-based economy like Cornwall, the seasonality of employment is a major problem, while in the Shetlands, access to transport is the biggest issue.

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