'Higher living cost' for rural Scots

Image caption Food and fuel bill are far higher for people living in remote areas of the Highlands than those elsewhere in the UK

People living in rural Scotland need a bigger budget than those elsewhere in the UK to achieve a minimum standard of living, a report has said.

It found some remote rural households needed between 10% and 40% more income to achieve the same standard of living as those in English urban areas.

Factors included higher fuel bills, travel to work costs and the prices of food and other essential goods.

The study was commissioned by 10 public and community organisations.

The report, entitled A Minimum Income Standard for Remote and Rural Scotland, also said tackling any one of the big cost contributors would have a major impact on people's cost of living.

The group behind the research was led by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE).

Alastair Nicolson, its head of planning and partnerships, said: "We commissioned this report to improve understanding of where the key issues lie, how these interact, and what measures could help different groups in different areas on a given income.

"By pinpointing the most important sources of higher costs in rural Scotland, it is possible to consider interventions that will help people to live at an acceptable standard."

Minimum Income Standard (MIS) is a nationally-recognised programme of research carried out by the Centre for Research in Social Policy (CRSP) at Loughborough University.

The team that produced this UK-wide research applied the method to remote rural Scotland in partnership with the University of Highlands and Islands' Centre for Remote and Rural Studies, with further inputs from University Campus Suffolk.

It compared the budget required to cover the cost of a basket of goods and services across a variety of households to meet a minimum acceptable standard of living.

Household budgets

MIS looked beyond the items needed to survive to include a range of things people need to have the opportunities and choices to participate fully in society. Judgements about what items are needed are made by groups of members of the public.

The research was carried out with pensioners and working age groups from across the Highlands and Islands and rural southern Scotland, including island communities.

It revealed that minimum household budgets, including rent, ranged from £320 per week for a single adult in a remote mainland town to £672 for a couple with a family in an island settlement.

For pensioners living in remote mainland Scotland towns, the cost was just over 10% higher than in rural towns or urban areas elsewhere in the UK.

For singles or couples with children living in remote small settlements it was 30-40% higher than in urban England and 10-15% higher than in small English settlements.

However, the report said that interventions which were already being made by public bodies were having a positive impact.

These included lower rents and council tax bills in comparison with England, subsidised transport and free prescriptions and eye tests.

Donald Hirsch, director of CRSP, said: "People in rural Scotland have the same ideas as everyone else across the UK about what comprises a minimum acceptable standard of living.

"The findings indicate that while no single factor is responsible for the extra cost of living, heating bills, travel to work and the costs of food, clothes and household goods all combine to have an impact.

"The report identifies that some costs in rural Scotland are lower - but that these go only a small way to compensating for the areas where costs are higher.

"A single person on minimum wage in remote rural Scotland ends up at most with about two thirds of what they need for an adequate living standard."

Sturdy footwear

Some of the issues facing English hamlets and remote Scottish communities were shared.

These included the disadvantage of not being on mains gas, pushing up heating costs. However, in other areas, remote rural Scotland faced distinctively different challenges from rural England.

These included:

  • Rural English households have access to supermarkets charging standard national prices, but people in remote rural Scotland shop in small towns with more expensive supermarkets, or in local stores where prices are higher still.
  • Higher quality waterproof clothing and sturdy footwear were needed in Scotland.
  • Transport costs can be particularly high for working households in remote rural Scotland, who often need to travel many miles to access employment opportunities.
  • Refrigeration needs differed: for example, Scottish islanders expect to buy in bulk - including locally sourced or butchered meat, fish and shellfish - and require chest freezers.

According to MIS, every week a single social tenant living in a remote Highlands town pays about £15 less in rent and £6 less in council tax than their English equivalent, but spends £10 more on domestic energy and £35 more on petrol.

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