Most of us who live there know that the necessities of life – and the luxuries – cost more in rural areas. That’s bad enough, but there is also a classic economic double bind, because most rural wages are lower than those paid in towns and cities.
If, with an unemployment figure now over 2.5 million, you can get a job in town or country of course. Is it any better to be unemployed in the countryside than in town? Probably not.
Do the benefits and pleasures of living in a rural area rather than a town or city housing estate counterbalance the extra costs? The answer to that is rather more complicated.
It depends, if you are in a job, on how much you earn. Living in the countryside is always an attraction to those on high incomes. That’s why local people on rural wages find it difficult to compete, buying or renting, with those on city incomes looking for second and holiday homes.
It means we have, effectively, a two-tier countryside even though, as a comprehensive recent survey by the money section of the Times indicates, it costs about £5,000 more a year to live there than in town.
However, the survey doesn’t extend to who can and who can’t afford the extra necessary to live comfortably in a rural areas. We can usually draw our own conclusions about that from the state of a property, the type of vehicles outside and the more obvious leisure pursuits of those living there.
What the survey can do is look closely at the probable average extra cost of rural living. Take energy supply. According to government statistics, 29 per cent of rural households are in fuel poverty – more than 10 per cent of income spent on fuel – compared with 15 per cent urban. Again, the double bind – 35 per cent of rural homes are “very energy-inefficient” compared with five per cent of urban homes.
That is because rural houses tend to be older, detached and more exposed to the weather. Anyone who has lived in an average farm cottage exposed to winds from every quarter can agree with that.
Mains gas is not an option in rural areas. Heating oil is expensive. Also electricity. Fuel and transport cost more in rural areas. Petrol and diesel can easily be 10p per litre dearer, rural roads in poorer condition.
Council services, at least in England according to the Times survey, cost rather more for rather less in rural areas although wheelie-bins at the most remote rural road ends suggest that the reach of councils extends further than it used to. Complaints that snow-clearing in rural areas is not the priority it is in towns and on main routes will always be with us.
Rural users have to tolerate much lower broadband connection and user speeds and have fewer providers to choose from, another double bind.
The paradox is that the average rural property costs, according to the Halifax, 20 per cent more than its urban counterpart – 6.4 times average UK earnings compared with 5.4 times.
Why? Because “an influx of wealthier and retired buyers has pushed up prices”. You don’t need to tell any young couple working in a rural area and looking for a home about that. Or that the problem of finding somewhere to live is made worse by a generally poor provision of social housing.
As I said, a two-tier countryside and one where the average age is rising steadily as more ambitious youngsters, as they have always done, head for town and city and what they hope will be better prospects.
I noticed recently that scientists in Geneva claim to have developed a technique of using lasers and nitric acid droplets to produce rain. The method draws water molecules together, it’s non-toxic, and the switch can be flicked on and off. This is an advance on the Chinese method of seeding rain clouds with silver iodide and even more of an advance on a rain dance.
A farmer I mentioned this to said that this harvest he had found an even more effective method of bringing rain – taking his combine into a field.
I knew how he felt. However, in spite of rain on a majority of days in August and September, much of the harvest is now in, albeit cut at high moisture contents. Ploughing and sowing of next year’s potential harvest is well under way. Whatever the cost, farmers remain optimists.