People living in isolated areas pay a “rural penalty” of higher taxes and substandard services compared with those who live in towns and cities, MPs conclude today.
A critical report found that schools in the countryside are underfunded, council tax is higher and not enough money is spent on improving infrastructure.
The interests of rural communities are simultaneously too often forgotten or ignored – exacerbating existing problems – when policy is being made by civil servants in Whitehall, according to the House of Commons Rural Affairs Committee.
The committee called on ministers not to see people living in the countryside as “helpless victims” but to devolve power and money to them, allowing communities to prioritise their needs.
They also suggested it could be made less attractive for people in urban areas to buy second homes in the countryside – which they said was continuing to have a negative effect of communities.
A quarter of England’s population, 12.7 million people, live in rural communities that are home to over half a million businesses, contributing more than £200bn to the economy. But the report found that in 2012-13 rural local authorities received 52 per cent less in grant funding per head than their urban counter-parts. Funding for education in the countryside was also significantly lower than in urban areas – but the committee pointed out that a recent Ofsted Report found the most disadvantaged children being let down by the education system are no longer found in inner cities but in coastal and rural towns.
Rural populations are also more likely to be elderly – yet the committee found that rural authorities receive lower grant allocations, spend less on social care and charge more for home care than those in urban areas.
“This may be a consequence of the perception that rural areas have less deprivation than their urban counterparts,” the committee said. “Rural areas have the same deprivation but that it is less identifiable because it does not exist in major pockets.” The Committee was also critical of the continuing lack of broadband provision and poor mobile phone coverage. It said rural businesses, schools and households had fallen behind while the Government’s Rural Broadband Programme was running nearly two years behind schedule.
“Broadband has become a basic utility yet thousands of people in rural communities have ridiculously slow speeds or no connection at all,” said the Committee’s chair, Anne McIntosh, adding that improvement of their services should be “prioritised”.
On second homes the committee said high concentration of weekend residents added to the shortage of housing, pushed up prices and their owners often added “little to the local economy and community”.
It said people should not be prevented from buying second homes but there is merit in exploring options to “make the process either less attractive for the second home-owner or more beneficial for the rural community or both”.
A Defra spokesman said: “We want our rural communities to be great places to live and work, which is why we’re investing in rural broadband, mobile coverage and providing funding to develop and grow rural businesses. The Government is helping hard-working people all over the country who aspire to own a home through Help to Buy.”
In 2012-13 rural local authorities received less than half the funding per head that urban authorities get.
House prices have risen 35 per cent faster in the countryside than in urban areas over the past decade.
Nearly a quarter of the UK still does not have 3G internet access.
Rural areas get less health funding than urban areas. England’s most rural area gets £1,477 per head compared with a regional average of £1,690.