Residents of rural areas 'must earn more to meet living costs'

PEOPLE living in Britain's countryside need to earn much more to enjoy the minimum standard of living than those in towns and cities – and people in the most remote areas have to spend most, it was revealed today.

Research shows people living in rural areas typically need to spend 10-20 per cent more than people in urban areas to reach a minimum acceptable living standard, the higher costs meaning a single person living in a village needs to earn at least 50 per cent more than the minimum wage of 5.93 per hour to make ends meet.

Low pay is becoming more common in the countryside and many rural workers fall well short of being able to afford their essential needs.

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A worker in a rural district has a one in four higher chance of being low paid than someone in an urban district.

Experts warn the public sector cuts soon to be imposed across the whole country will mean the amount of money required to get by is expected to rise more sharply in the countryside.

The research has been carried out by the York-based Joseph Rowntree Foundation on behalf of the Government's rural watchdog, the Commission for Rural Communities.

It found that a person living in a rural town required 15,600 a year to get by. This figure rose to 17,900 a year for those living in a village and 18,600 for people living in a hamlet or the remote countryside. This contrasts with a figure of 14,400 for people in urban areas.

High costs of transport and energy bills coupled with lower rates of pay are cited in the report as the main factors for the disparity between Britain's towns and countryside.

Researchers found that a car is a significant additional cost for rural households because residents say public transport is insufficient to meet essential travel needs.

Many people also face higher energy bills because of the lack of mains gas supply, necessitating the use of more expensive fuels. The location of rural services also has an impact on the cost of living, something the study said "could be exacerbated if local services are cut".

The executive director at the Commission for Rural Communities, Nicola Lloyd, 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."

For some people the picture is even starker, the largest additional budgets in the study being required by parents with two children. In a hamlet this family needs 72.20 more per week than a similar urban family.

The Rowntree Foundation's 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."