Young squeezed out of countryside

Young people missing from countryside
Young people missing from countryside

The countryside is fast becoming the preserve of the middle-aged and middle-class, a new report has found.

Only the more affluent are able to benefit from the rural idyll, with costs of living higher in the countryside and poorer access to essential services such as GPs and Post Offices.

The Commission for Rural Communities' report, The State of the Countryside 2007 warns of a "future without young people".

It found there are 400,000 fewer young people aged 15 to 26 years old in rural areas than two years ago. While the rural population is rising overall, it is ageing faster than the urban population, placing a strain on services such as healthcare and housing.

Launching the report, Dr Stuart Burgess, chairman of the Commission for Rural Communities said: "The loss of young people is a real threat to the future diversity and sustainability of rural communities.

"Much more needs to be done to retain young people and provide them with opportunities and incentives to return to their roots if they choose."

The report also found the average rural household needs to spend £60 per week more than urban households, with expenditure totalling £480 a week.

Low-income families living in rural areas can be more disadvantaged then their city-dwelling counterparts.

Dr Burgess said 928,000 rural households live on less than £16,500. They are doubly penalised by a shortage of affordable housing. Despite a recent rise in new houses in rural areas, the number of affordable homes is at a lower level than in the late 1990s.

"This continues to be one of the most serious, if not the most serious, problem facing rural England today," warned the commission.

Nearly a quarter of a million people in the countryside also live in "financial services deserts", meaning they have no Post Office within two kilometres and no bank, building society or cash point within four kilometres.

The Liberal Democrats claim Labour has failed rural communities and called on Gordon Brown to ensure villages and market towns can become sustainable communities.

Chris Huhne, Lib Dem rural affairs spokesman, said: "It is no surprise that young people have been leaving the countryside.

"They are being forced out by the government's failure to provide more affordable homes, with average rural house prices now over £40,000 more than in urban areas."

A Department for Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) spokesperson replied: "Housing and affordable homes have been identified by the prime minister as a key priority of the Comprehensive Spending Review - which is due to report later in the year.

"In advance of the spending review, Defra is working in partnership with the Housing Corporation to research the case for a new time limited funding programme to help local organisations to increase affordable rural housing."


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