Page last updated at 02:00 GMT, Wednesday, 16 July 2008 03:00 UK

Fifth of rural people 'are poor'

British countryside
The problems are worse in the most rural areas

One in five families in the English countryside is living below the poverty line, a new report has found.

The survey by the Commission for Rural Communities (CRC) says a decline in services and less affordable housing are major factors in the trend.

It found the price of the average house in rural areas was more than 40,000 more expensive than in towns or cities - 257,000 compared to 212,000.

The number of poor families was growing faster in the country, the study said.

This trend also seemed to worsen the more isolated the area.

The annual report compared data from the last nine years to analyse changes in the way people in the countryside were living.

In many areas, such as agriculture, there appeared to be a steady decline.

But this was tempered with some good news in the report.

More new businesses were started up than in urban areas and almost two-thirds of people had internet access, the study found.

Significant ongoing challenges remain to make certain rural people are not disadvantaged by where they live
Dr Stuart Burgess, CRC

There were also 291,000 more people working in knowledge-based industries than in 1998 - an increase of 46%, it said.

In addition, rural residents were expected to be healthier and live longer, according to the report.

The price of agricultural land also rose in 2007 thanks to a rise in crop prices and demand for "lifestyle" rural properties, it added.

But Dr Stuart Burgess, chairman of the CRC said low-cost housing was a real issue.

"Demand is being heightened because of people seeking to relocate to the countryside. Meeting affordable housing needs in rural areas remains a dominant challenge.

"In some sparsely populated places house prices can be up to 9.7 times the annual household income".

Dr Burgess warned that in the deepening economic slump there were many "critical issues" for policy makers to ensure countryside communities were not left behind.

"Changes will be needed to provide benefits to all communities, including those in rural areas."

He added: "Whilst rural England has some major strengths and much to celebrate, significant ongoing challenges remain to make certain rural people are not disadvantaged by where they live."




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