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2008/07/16

20% of rural people in the UK live in poverty



British countryside
     The problems are worse in the most
     isolated rural areas.
A report from a survey by the CRC (Commission for Rural Communities) indicates that a trend has developed that now places one in five families in the English countryside below the poverty line.
Major causal factors in the trend apparently include:
  • A decline in services.
  • Less affordable housing: 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.
Across the UK, the number of poor families was growing faster in the country, than in urban areas, the survey said, with the trend seeming to be worse 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. Though in many areas - such as agriculture - there appeared to be a steady decline, this was tempered with some good news in the report:
  • More new businesses were started up than in urban areas.
  • Almost two-thirds of people had internet access
  • There were also 291,000 more people working in knowledge-based industries than in 1998 - an increase of 46%
  • Rural residents were expected to be healthier and live longer, according to the report
  • The price of agricultural land also rose in 2007 due to a rise in crop prices and demand for "lifestyle" rural properties. (Hang on, isn't that helping to lead to "less affordable housing" in the first place?)



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

My question is this: In an otherwise laissez-faire capitalist economy, why should the fact that economic factors are causing housing to be less affordable somehow mean that "certain [i.e., relatively underpaid] rural people" are being "disadvantaged by where they live"?

Just because the magic liberal incantation "disadvantaged" has been uttered does not mean that we should proceed to run around in circles wondering how we should help these people. I could be wrong, of course, but it seems to me that the best help we could give to them would be to encourage farmers to pay them a fair wage, so that they could afford to live in the increasingly expensive rural areas in the first place.

If the Whitehall bureaucrats avoided interfering in the economic process, then rural workers would leave rural areas (because they cannot afford to stay), forcing farmers to pay sufficient wages to retain people in or entice people back to work in those areas, thus forcing up the general input costs of agricultural produce, which means that food etc. will cost even more in the shops. Thus food prices will have been raised because of the increased cost of housing, which would thus have  have been contributing to inflation, but balance - between the supply and demand factors for agricultural labour - will have been restored

Of course, if the government subsidised rural workers' living costs, then the taxpayer would foot the bill, but they would do so anyway as they are also the selfsame consumers who would otherwise be buying the more expensive food produce.
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