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Last Updated: Monday, 3 March 2008, 17:04 GMT
Poverty 'blights 1m rural homes'
Rural homes (Picture courtesy of freefoto.com)
Housing and transport are often problems in the countryside
Almost one million households in rural England live in poverty, a study says.

The report, by the government's rural advocate, says many people in the countryside have prosperous lifestyles.

But the picture is "not so rosy" for more than 928,000 households with incomes below the official poverty line of 16,492, Stuart Burgess adds.

It comes as the Rural Services Network calls for action to improve rural life. Ministers say rural areas fare above average on most aspects of deprivation.

Affordable homes

However, a spokesman for the Department for Food and Rural Affairs acknowledged that there were disadvantaged individuals living in rural areas.

He said the government would look closely at Dr Burgess's report and the findings of the Rural Services Network, adding that the government was committed to ensuring all its policies were "rural-proofed" and the implications for the countryside considered.

Dr Burgess, who heads the Commission for Rural Communities, said the priorities for rural communities were providing more affordable housing, strengthening the economy of rural areas and supporting voluntary and community work.

One of his recommendations is to promote community land trusts, which ensure properties are affordable for rural workers and do not become second homes.

He told BBC News: "No government, whichever colour of the day, is going to interfere dramatically into the market economy. But what we can do is mitigate the problem."

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The Rural Services Network, made up of 80 rural local authorities plus 150 other groups, has launched a call for action to support rural England, saying the people who live there are not prepared to be treated as second-class citizens.

In a report, which follows a major public consultation, the body says more affordable housing, training opportunities for young people and financial support to provide care and services for an ageing rural population are vital.

It wants sustainable solutions to the problem of transport in rural areas, where many have no option but to use cars, an end to rural post office closures and the retention of small village schools.

Other demands include government commitments on affordable housing and sustaining balanced and vibrant communities and a review of the planning system to increase the availability of land for homes.

Chief officer Graham Biggs said: "The government has consistently not done enough to protect the needs of those living in rural areas and has broken its pledge that nobody should be disadvantaged because of where they live."

Planning problems

One rural worker, Cumbrian slate miner Ben Bland, told the BBC people from outside rural communities buying up properties was a problem.

He said: "Most of the cottages and houses were built by the miners that worked here in the past and built for them to live in.

We're seeing school closures in some rural areas at the moment, and petrol prices and diesel prices can have a really serious impact on people living in marginal rural areas where they have to travel long distances just to get basic services
Tim Bonner
Countryside Alliance

"It's just a pity they are being sold on to outside buyers now and they're only lived in for six months of the year."

Tim Bonner, of campaign group the Countryside Alliance, said the government was not listening to the views of people living in the countryside.

"We're seeing school closures in some rural areas at the moment, and petrol prices and diesel prices can have a really serious impact on people living in marginal rural areas where they have to travel long distances just to get basic services," he said.

"And, of course, the post office closures which are going on as we speak all over the countryside are having a huge impact on people and often their ability to access crucial services."

Jim Paice, shadow minister for agriculture and rural affairs, said the government was failing to provide an acceptable standard of services in rural areas.

He said: "Centrally prescribed targets for Rural Development Agencies are urban-focused so for them rural affairs is a low priority. This approach is turning our rural wards into some of poorest in the country."



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