Many people think of the countryside as an idyllic place to live, characterised by beautiful landscapes where people live happier, healthier lives. However, living in rural areas has its challenges. Rural communities often lack basic services, homes that people can afford and employment opportunities – problems made worse by poor connectivity to other areas. This can make life difficult, especially for people who already suffer other forms of disadvantage.
The needs of rural communities have tended to be overlooked by successive governments. It has been a long while since any administration overtly committed to rural development and more often than not, new legislation and policies miss the mark in terms of assessing their impact on the rural population. This ‘rural blindness’ can have a profound impact for the people who live and work in the countryside and limit the opportunities open to them.
Drawing on the experiences of our members, we seek to ‘rural proof’ government policies and initiatives, so they are examined closely from a rural perspective and their impact on those areas understood. Rural proofing is based on an understanding that rural communities have different needs and characteristics to their urban counterparts which may require different solutions and interventions. Members of the ACRE Network do the same locally, adding scrutiny to the work of local government bodies and service providers.
Much more can be done to consider the needs of rural communities and back initiatives in these areas to make sure no one is disadvantaged by where they live.
We believe this could be achieved if government:
Works with groups and organisations representing people living and working in the countryside to articulate a clear vision for the future of rural England
Puts back into legislation ‘rural proofing’, integrated rural development, links into agri-environment policy and food strategy and ensure post-EU investment in rural development beyond just agri-environment / environmental land management measures. This may need a ‘Rural Communities Bill’ to sit alongside the Agriculture and Environment Bills
Gives greater national priority, across all areas of Government, to levelling-up opportunities for all in rural and coastal areas of England
Gives the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the Competition and Markets Authority and the Commission for Social Mobility duties to keep under review unequal treatment of people arising directly from the rurality of their location, or where rurality exacerbates unequal treatment arising from the protected characteristics enshrined in Equalities legislation.