New research shows people in rural areas typically need to spend 10-20% more than people in urban areas to reach a minimum acceptable living standard.
These higher costs mean a single person living in a village needs to earn at least 50% above the minimum wage (£5.93 per hour) to make ends meet. With low pay more common in rural areas, many rural workers fall well short of being able to afford their essential needs.
The location of rural services also has an impact on the cost of living. This could be exacerbated if local services are cut, the report warns.
The research was carried out for the Commission for Rural Communities by the same team at Loughborough University that calculates the Joseph Rowntree Foundation minimum income standard for the United Kingdom.
The report is titled A minimum income standard for rural households,
This standard is based on what items ordinary people think households need to afford a minimum acceptable standard of living. Researchers talked to groups of people in rural England about what things are essential in rural towns, villages and hamlets. The findings illustrate that the more remote the area, the greater the extra expense.
To afford a minimum standard of living, a single person needs to earn at least:
- £15,600 a year in a rural town
- £17,900 a year in a village
- £18,600 in a hamlet or the remote countryside
In comparison, urban dwellers need £14,400, to meet the specified minimum.
Running a car is a significant additional cost for rural households because residents say public transport is insufficient to meet essential travel needs.
Report author Noel Smith said the research showed many similarities in the living patterns and minimum expectations of people in rural and urban areas. But rural people identified some crucial differences, particularly in terms of transport needs. "In most cases, they consider cars to be essential, whereas discussions among residents of urban areas concluded that a combination of buses and the occasional taxi could meet minimum travel requirements. Another important reality of rural areas is the extra cost to heat traditional rural housing without gas central heating, compared to modern city homes.We were struck by the gap between how much people would need to earn to meet these rural requirements and the level of some of the wages actually available. Workers in the most basic rural jobs can work very hard yet still fall well short of what they need for an acceptable standard of living."
A lack of mains gas supply in many rural areas meant having to use more expensive fuels. Older homes in rural areas could also be less energy efficient. For most other areas of household spending, such as food and clothing, minimum needs were broadly the same in urban and in rural areas.
But for some people the picture is much starker: the largest additional budgets in the study are required by couple parents with two children. In a hamlet this family needs £72.20 more per week than a similar urban family.
The higher costs of living in rural areas contrast with widespread low rural pay. A worker in a rural district has a one in four higher chance of being low paid than someone in an urban district.
Nicola Lloyd, executive director at the Commission for Rural Communities, claimed the report was the first to produce reliable data that showed the minimum cost of living in the countryside was higher than in the city.
She added: "The rural minimum income standard clearly shows that many ordinary families living in rural areas will struggle to afford the everyday essentials; for some this will make rural life unsustainable."
Higher transport and household fuel costs were likely to be particular problems for rural families with low incomes. The commission's recent work on fuel poverty and promoting greater energy efficiency offered ways for the government and others to help to reduce these costs.
"We would also like to see developments which lessen the need for expensive travel to reach essential services, such as greater access to broadband and mobile technology, and creative solutions to providing employment and services closer to home."
An online calculator at http://www.minimumincome.org.uk/ allows individuals to work out their minimum earnings requirement adjusted for the number and ages of people in their household and whether they live in a city, town, village or hamlet.
Press Release from Ruralcity Media