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This chapter brings together the insights from analysis of the three study areas. It begins by considering the four sources of support in the analytical framework (markets, state, voluntary and community sector, and family and friends) and how they act cumulatively to offset or reinforce social exclusion and financial vulnerability. Much local employment is precarious with volatile and unpredictable incomes creating financial vulnerability. Welfare reforms have intensified this precarity, redistributing risk towards the most vulnerable. Specific rural dimensions arise from the volatility of incomes, digitalisation and digital exclusion, difficulties in accessing advice and support and typically lower claimant rates. Additionally, people experience higher costs of living and widespread fuel poverty. Voluntary and community organisations are active in supporting people disadvantaged by markets and the state, and their services are highly valued but under-resourced. There is a tendency to idealise rural communities as places where everyone looks after one another, but this may be more difficult for those who do not understand local social norms and lexicons or who are less well embedded in social networks. This suggests a need for synergies between person-based measures (such as welfare entitlements) and local, place-based measures (such as advice and support).
This chapter offers some closing reflections on the original contributions of this study to the understanding of poverty and social exclusion in rural Britain and on implications for policy and practice. It begins by reflecting on the main themes emerging from this study and highlights some of the new insights which have emerged. After reviewing previous studies’ suggestions for policy interventions, this chapter argues for an approach which combines person-based and place-based policy approaches to social exclusion in rural areas. Some of the most pressing policy challenges are then highlighted, including the cost of living crisis and the rural blindness of the UK welfare system, and practical opportunities for policy development to address these are proposed. The chapter ends by reflecting on issues of power and governance, and on the extent to which the framing of rural communities as self-reliant and resilient might facilitate the withdrawal of the state from rural areas and the abdication of its duty to rural citizens.
East Perthshire is an accessible rural area, mostly within commuting distance of Perth, Dundee and the central belt. It includes expensive middle-class housing as well as some of the 20 per cent most deprived communities in Scotland. In-work poverty was rising, with the growth of insecure employment or self-employment making it hard to budget or save. This precarity in labour markets was exacerbated, rather than ameliorated, by increasing precarity in state welfare systems. The complexity and high risks of the benefit system were major factors in financial vulnerability and hardship, and this chapter details these deficiencies and their relation to rurality. Support came instead from numerous voluntary and community organisations. From foodbanks to advice services, from women’s refuges to care providers, these provided a ‘first port of call’ and a crucial signposting role towards other sources of help. They all face challenges of trying to provide services across a large rural area in the context of funding pressures and rising demand and need. Support also came for some from family and friends networks, especially in substituting for the state’s social care, childcare and eldercare services.
Harris lies in the Outer Hebrides and is very sparsely populated, with one small town and others scattered around the island’s perimeter. The population has halved since 1951. Tourism, fishing and crofting remain but most employment today is in the service sector, with good jobs in the public sector health and education. In recent years, the development of the ‘Harris brand’ has generated a dramatic increase in economic activity and employment, beyond the capacity of the available workforce. Housing pressure, especially, has inflated house prices and caused difficulty in retaining or attracting key workers. Residents who did not benefit from this boom face difficulties accessing support and risk social stigma in small communities. While the community and voluntary sectors are strong, reliance on family and friends is often more socially acceptable. Over 70 per cent of the Western Isles is now in community ownership, but despite this and the localisation of local government in 1975, there is still a sense of distance from centres of power in Edinburgh, London and multinational boardrooms around the globe.
This chapter introduces the scope and purpose of the book, which presents original research and analysis to fill a gap in our understanding of how poverty and social exclusion affect rural lives following the financial crisis, austerity, Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic. This chapter sketches the context for this study in terms of national policies, including fiscal tightening, labour market flexibilisation, welfare reform and other ‘roll-back’ and ‘roll-out’ forms of neoliberalisation and the lack of any coherent strategy to ensure the wellbeing of rural citizens. Finally, the chapter explains the methods used in this study.
The Northumberland study area is another remote, sparsely populated rural area, but on the mainland and in England. Key industries include hill farming and forestry, with tourism growing in the last decade. Rural poverty is quite widespread in the area, with interviewees telling similar stories to those in Perthshire and Harris about their experiences with the welfare system. As in Perthshire, there is also a disparity in wealth, with agencies not always having a clear picture about the existence and needs of rural residents experiencing poverty. Something of a narrative of ‘loss’ exists, following the closures of railway lines in the 1950s, the loss of homes to Kielder Water reservoir in the 1970s–80s and the closure of Bellingham’s mart. Despite these challenges, people in the area have a ‘do it for themselves’ attitude if they want something to happen. There are many examples of enterprising work of voluntary and community organisations, leading to the development of an informal network of community volunteers who themselves bring another layer of connectedness to the support available to rural people experiencing financial hardship. This highlights the potential for organisations to link up with these individuals to help address the challenges of ‘reaching’ into rural areas.
This chapter reviews previous studies of rural poverty and social exclusion in Britain, Europe and North America as an essential underpinning for this research. The review starts by defining some of the key terms from this literature and then it moves on to review existing evidence on the extent of poverty and financial hardship in rural Britain and how these challenges have affected different demographic groups. It then reviews some of the specific factors contributing to rural poverty and discusses the reasons why poverty and hardship often remain ‘under the radar’ in rural areas. The review concludes by setting out the analytical framework for the approach taken in the research, which focuses on the interconnections between individuals’ experiences of hardship/wellbeing and the structural and external processes bringing changes.
This chapter examines in greater depth the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns on individuals experiencing financial hardship and vulnerability in rural areas, and the responses to those impacts. The impacts reinforce the importance of diversifying rural economies that rely heavily on tourism and hospitality, and of promoting ‘good work’ which offers a reasonable, secure income. The pandemic has also amplified the impacts of digital exclusion in rural areas and highlighted how 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, and in respect of their ability to generate income. This chapter concludes with lessons and opportunities for supporting rural individuals experiencing financial hardship now and post-pandemic.
Poverty is perceived as an urban problem, yet many in rural Britain also experience hardship. This book explores how and why people in rural areas experience and negotiate poverty and social exclusion. It examines the role of societal processes, individual circumstances, sources of support (markets; state; voluntary organisations; family and friends) and the role of place.
It concludes that the UK’s welfare system is poorly adapted to rural areas, with the COVID-19 pandemic, Brexit and cutbacks exacerbating pressures. Voluntary organisations increasingly fill gaps in support left by the state. Invaluable to those in policy and practice, the book recommends a combination of person-based and place-based approaches to tackle rural poverty.
In this chapter I make the case for the importance and significance of social class to the lives of public housing tenants. Class may well provide homologous conditions and solidarity, but it is also the great divider of society into those who work and those who benefit from those who work. The Bridgetown Estate is a microcosm of class in Ireland. Class originates and is sustained in relations between groups, much more than it is something based on static positions. I argue in this chapter that class is both materially and morally significant to the lives of the people of the Bridgetown Estate. The class system produces scarcity, lack, and inequality because the material production of the society is tethered to a profit-seeking capitalist model. There is therefore a strong connection between the ontology of the estate and the frameworks and epistemologies that are used to explain why things are the way they are. My argument is that estates such as the Bridgetown Estate are effectively vehicles and containers for class relations and class processes and that this understanding leads to a very different form of explanatory critique than one based on the deprivation–disadvantage paradigm.