Cries for help as curtain lifted on hidden poverty in rural Yorkshire

Judy Robinson, chief executive of Involve Yorkshire & Humber
Judy Robinson, chief executive of Involve Yorkshire & Humber
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A BLEAK picture of the hidden poverty which lingers beneath rural Yorkshire’s “chocolate box” image is revealed today in a powerful report calling for greater support for struggling countryside communities.

A coalition of regional charities has warned that thousands of people living in remote areas across Yorkshire are facing huge gaps in service provision which means those in need are falling through society’s cracks as communities fragment and public spending cuts hit home.

The report, compiled from testimonies and first-person case studies collected by rural charities across the region, paints a vivid picture of villages which are losing key social hubs such as post offices and pubs at the very time local councils and NHS bodies have less money to spend on reaching more disparate areas.

As a result, people with high levels of need “are left undiagnosed for too long” because the networks are simply not in place to ensure they receive the help the require.

Many of the examples given will be shocking to those who see the Yorkshire countryside as the preserve of the wealthy.

The study states: “in rural parts of Yorkshire, isolated individuals are forced to survive on the cheapest bread available and the food they can forage for in the fields.”

It describes “elderly women with reduced mobility” who “live alone in unsuitable, unheated accommodation and cannot afford to go out of their home for weeks on end”.

There are also examples of how “children under the age of two suffer for months with an undiagnosed but easily treatable speech impediment and see their condition worsen with every passing day”.

Judy Robinson, chief executive of the charity Involve Yorkshire and Humber – an umbrella group which support voluntary sector groups across the region – said: “It is very much a hidden issue that there are these poor and isolated people living within our rural areas.

“These places look beautiful but behind the chocolate box image there is real poverty and real deprivation.

“And in some ways the situation is actually worse than in urban areas because services are sparse and so much harder to access.”

The study reveals there are nearly 100,000 people living in rural Yorkshire classed as “income deprived” by the Government – around half of them requiring some form of ‘out-of-work’ benefit.

Some 27,000 have no central heating and more than 66,000 have no car or van – despite the lack of public transport to connect them with friends, family and public services.

The report states: “Despite a common misconception which depicts rural areas as overwhelmingly ‘well off’, rural individuals, families and businesses can experience very serious hardship in rural parts of Yorkshire.

“This is often made worse by poor health conditions, family difficulties, insufficient levels of income and a lack of knowledge about the best way to handle complex situations.

“What’s more, day-to-day life in rural areas can be made especially difficult because of the lack of services, lack of transport and social isolation.

“In almost every case, rurality itself makes the situation worse.”

The charities say they are working to fill the gaps, but frequently find themselves hamstrung by the withdrawal of funding grants.

Leah Swan, chief officer of Rural Action Yorkshire – which worked alongside Involve on the report – said: “Rural communities need support to stay vibrant and viable.

“With high fuel prices, limited access to public services and further distances to employment every rural household is feeling the strain.

“Our rural villages have an amazing will to support themselves, but a small amount of support from Government for the voluntary and community sector goes a long way in a rural setting.”