Rural Poverty in Wales: Existing Research and Evidence Gaps

Emyr Williams and Rosaleen Doyle

Public Policy Institute for Wales

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  • This report provides an overview of existing research on the scale and causes of rural poverty with a particular focus on Wales.
  • Definitions of rurality and poverty are contested. The most commonly adopted definition of ‘rural’ refers to settlements of 10,000 or less residents. The measure of poverty often used in the UK is 60% of the median income though it is widely acknowledged that people’s experience of poverty is multi-dimensional.
  • There is evidence that rural poverty can be masked by the relative affluence of rural areas and by a culture of self-reliance in rural communities.
  • Research suggests that whilst the manifestations of rural and urban poverty are sometimes similar, their causes and scale are often different.
  • Key contributory factors include the fragility of some rural economies, poor access to employment opportunities and public services, low pay, a lack of affordable housing and social isolation.
  • The low skills base of some rural economies is known to act as a barrier to economic growth and limited employment opportunities can result in the out-migration of skilled workers. Lack of training opportunities can also contribute to keeping incomes low.
  • The prevalence of low paid and fragile employment contributes to the risk of in-work poverty.
  • Lack of access to services makes it difficult for some individuals to secure employment. Public transport in many rural areas is infrequent, inadequate and more expensive than elsewhere. This means that it difficult for those without private transport to travel for work.
  • A lack of affordable and available childcare in rural areas and limited access to the internet are also seen as barriers to employment opportunities.
  • There is a ‘rural premium’ on some key goods and services because of a lack of competitive markets for food, fuel, energy and transport. This contributes to rural poverty.
  • Rural households are known to be susceptible to fuel poverty. Fixed housing costs often absorb a large proportion of low household incomes and many rural areas have a lack of affordable housing.
  • The Welsh Government collects a lot of data which sheds light on the distribution of rural poverty. However there are significant gaps in the evidence base. These include understanding of people’s experiences of rural poverty and robust evaluation of the impact of interventions designed to address it.