Post-lockdown action in rural areas needed, says study

A new study has warned that many more rural residents will be at risk of poverty and financial hardship after lockdown ends unless action is taken.

The study into the impacts of the pandemic and lockdowns on people in Northumberland, East Perthshire and Harris, was carried out by Newcastle University, Scotland’s Rural College and the Impact Hub Inverness. It found that as government support schemes end, and other sources of support become more constrained, rural residents will be more at risk of financial hardship and vulnerability – unless appropriate action is taken.

There have been fewer coronavirus cases in rural areas because of lower population densities and less mixing on public transport, but the reliance on tourism and hospitality employment has led to a severe economic impact during the lockdowns. While these impacts were mitigated by the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, the Self Employment Income Support Scheme and through an uplift to Universal Credit, people in rural areas warn of growing unemployment and poverty when these are withdrawn.

The ongoing research highlights how difficulties relating to distance, mobility and access, as well as issues of visibility and stigma, are more severe in small rural communities.

Mark Shucksmith, from Newcastle University, said: “Voluntary and community organisations have been crucial in ensuring that hard-to-reach groups have access to financial and other support. However, many of these organisations face a challenging future with respect to their financial resources, particularly if council budgets are squeezed further as the National Audit Office has warned, and in respect of their ability to generate income from retail sales or fundraising.”

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