The rural surcharge in the cost of living crisis
The cost of living crisis is affecting households across the UK. However, it is likely rising food and energy costs will be hitting rural and island households especially hard, placing pressure on rural households, families and businesses, and increasing demands on community and voluntary sector organisations to provide support.
High energy costs and fuel poverty
One reason for the more significant rural impact of the cost of living crisis is that household energy costs are already higher in rural areas where the houses are generally larger, older, poorly insulated, difficult and costly to retrofit with insulation, and often not connected to mains gas.
The Rural Lives study, published in 2021, revealed the human impact of fuel poverty in rural Britain with stories of older people being unable to afford to put on their heating, people relying on free firewood and only heating one room, and families being unable to afford to buy more oil after they ran out in early winter. Recent work by Energy Action Scotland has suggested that the proportion of households in fuel poverty in the Western Isles is now at 80% with energy bills rising by 240% over the last year. The same is true in terms of transport costs, with people often required to travel further to access employment and services, with public transport often inadequate or unavailable.
There are exceptions to this worrying trend though such as the Knoydart Peninsula, which is not connected to the National Grid and relies on a hydroelectric scheme run by the community trust. Meaning its 120 residents are somewhat insulated from the pressures affecting the remainder of the population.
The ‘cost of business’ crisis and seasonal employment
In England, ACRE has called for the UK Government to do more to help people in rural areas and a survey by GrowBiz, an organisation offering community-based enterprise support for Scottish rural businesses, argued that there is a ‘cost of business’ crisis happening too with increasing costs, falling turnover and businesses continuing to be challenged by ‘usual’ costs of operating in a rural environment. These concerns are also impacting on business owners’ health and wellbeing.
Added to these challenges, many rural and island residents rely on seasonal and low paid employment and incomes, are struggling to find affordable housing, and may lack access to services as they become centralised and digitalised. Again, Rural Lives
revealed how the welfare system is poorly adapted to rural contexts where people often rely on multiple jobs which are seasonal. Added to this is the stigma of claiming benefits in small communities which means that rural poverty often remains ‘under the radar’ while policy attention focuses on those living in poverty in urban centres.
Many rural and island communities are facing indirect challenges relating to the cost of living crisis, including rising crime rates
, and pressure on health and social care services as carers can no longer afford the fuel
they need to reach patients.
We’d love to hear how is the cost of living crisis is affecting you both personally and professionally.