11 February 2000

Poverty is hidden

DESPITE the Prime Ministers claims that life in rural Britain is prosperous, MPs have been told that the apparent general affluence in many country areas masks widespread poverty.

Mark Shucksmith, co-director of Aberdeen Universitys Arkleton centre for rural development research, told MPs on the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee on Wed that, while incomes were slightly higher in the countryside than in urban areas, one in three of Britains rural population experienced poverty at some time between 1991-96.

The poverty rate during this time was only marginally lower than that recorded in towns and cities.

Rural people most at risk included older people, women, young people and the self-employed.

Yet those struggling financially in the countryside tended to be overlooked, partly because poverty was more visible in the cities and partly because of most peoples romantic vision of life in the country.

"The popular conception of prosperous, idyllic countryside often conceals poverty, inequality and social exclusion which bear on the lives of a substantial minority of those in rural Britain," Prof Shucksmith told the MPs.

While the incidence of persistent unemployment was lower in rural areas, the problem of low pay was more widespread, he said. Despite that, uptake of welfare benefits was low because of a lack of information and advice, and the greater stigma attached to benefit receipt in small communities.