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Rural poverty: ‘People are struggling but it’s hidden here’
Church in a wealthy village is handing out emergency food parcels
By Natalie Bloomer
The picturesque villages of Hackleton, Horton and Piddington are not the type of places you would expect to find people living in poverty.
Nestled together in South Northants close to the popular Salcey Forest, the three villages have a combined population of around 4,000.
According to the website Zoopla, the average sold price for a property in Hackleton in the last 12 months was £694,844.
But alongside the families living comfortably in large cottages and converted barns there are also those who are struggling to make ends meet.
“When you look at these villages it’s clear there are people doing very well - there are also people struggling but it’s more hidden here. It’s harder for someone to admit it when nobody around them is in a similar situation,” Jennie Lee, minister of the local Baptist church says.
Six months ago Jennie began providing food packages for local people in need. Now every week she receives supplies from the homeless charity Project 16:15 (which also provides emergency food) for her to make up into parcels.
Stan Roberson from the charity says that while he doesn’t supply food to rural areas on a large scale the number of individual families living in villages and small towns asking for help from the charity is increasing.
“The numbers aren’t large but it’s definitely on the rise. I call it middle-class poverty. The issues impacting people in rural areas might be different but the end result is the same - people struggling to feed themselves.”
Jennie says embarrassment often prevents local people from approaching the church for help.
“We have a little community-run coffee shop here and we make it known that we can deliver food packages. We’re aware of people who are really struggling but we can't just say to them ‘we know you’re struggling’. Friends and neighbours will often collect the food for them.
“Their pride often makes it difficult for them to accept the parcels for nothing. Many people will offer something in return, just a small donation.
“Nobody should feel that way, I used to be a single parent and lived hand to mouth. I never had any savings and could have easily ended up in a situation where I needed help. It can happen to anyone.”
A recent report by the Rural Services Network found that high energy prices, transport costs and low wages meant that some rural communities were facing a ‘cost of living emergency’.
The research compared the impact of the cost of living crisis on those in rural and urban areas. It found that residents who work in rural economies earn much less than urban residents but face higher costs of heating, transport, rent, child-care and council tax.
Chief executive of the Rural Services Network, Graham Biggs said:
“The cost of living is a significant issue for all people and businesses across England, but rural areas have systematically faced higher costs and disadvantages compared to urban counterparts, which is leaving communities more vulnerable.
“…Rural areas are facing a triple burden of higher heating and transport costs, while also earning a lower income…other costs of living are also higher for rural people than their urban counterparts. The government must overcome policy silos and develop an integrated approach that recognises the multiple forms of disadvantage rural areas face. This should include levelling up the rural economy to ensure that low wage levels can be improved, as well as supporting rural houses to become more energy efficient to help get families out of fuel poverty. Many rural homes which are off the gas network are more difficult and costly to heat and insulate.
“Out-dated infrastructure and a legacy of other factors, such as poor transport and broadband connectivity, employment opportunities and housing demand, means that many rural areas are more isolated than maps suggest and are all contributing to a higher overall cost of living. Without taking these measures into account, rural areas are at greater risk of being left yet further behind in the cost-of-living crisis.”