The rural cost of living crisis

Poverty House by side of road
Pixabay (dimitrisvetsikas1969)
ViewsAugust 17th, 2022

As the cost of living crisis hits, Victoria Winckler, Director of the Bevan Foundation, says that rural communities are especially hard hit

The Bevan Foundation’s latest ‘snapshot’ of poverty has revealed that more than one in eight Welsh households either sometimes or often struggle to afford everyday items. In total 45 per cent of Welsh households never have enough money for anything other than the basics.

These all-Wales figures are bad enough, but the pressure on households in rural communities is even worse. Why? Because rural areas face a triple squeeze from high costs, low incomes and limited support for hard-pressed households. 

High costs

It is well-known that it costs more to live outside towns and cities. The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show that across Britain households in rural areas typically spent £27 a week more on transport and £4 a week more on food than people in urban areas. These items are not only essential but have also seen some of the biggest increases in price in the last 12 months. Rural homes are much more likely to be reliant on costly oil for their heating – another cost that has rocketed – and they also tend to be less well-insulated.

Low incomes

Household incomes in rural areas are struggling to keep up. For employees, median earnings in May 2022 were the lowest in Wales in Pembrokeshire, Ceredigion, Conwy, Gwynedd and Powys. A typical worker in Pembrokeshire is a belt-tightening £346 a month worse off than a typical UK worker. Add to this, a large proportion of people in rural areas are self-employed. In Powys more than one in three male workers aged 16 and over works for themselves, as do around a quarter in Pembrokeshire, Ceredigion and Ynys Mon. The Bevan Foundation has found that in 2018-19 the median annual income from self-employment in Wales was less than two thirds than that of employee income (£13,500 and £22,500 respectively).

Less help

The Welsh Government is, to its credit, taking several steps to help hard-pressed households. The Cost of Living payment for people living in properties in Council Tax bands A-D, the Winter Fuel Scheme for households in receipt of certain means-tested benefits and cash payments and vouchers for households in financial crisis (via the Discretionary Assistance Fund) are all very welcome. However, as National Energy Action Cymru has noted, the help offered with fuel costs is not enough to enable a household to buy a minimum delivery of oil. On top of this, because many low-income self-employed people cannot claim Universal Credit because of assumptions made about their income, they are then excluded from Welsh Government schemes.

Help from charities is spread more thinly in rural areas than in urban places too. Money advice and help with debt, food banks and access to low-cost household goods in charity shops are inevitably concentrated in towns – an expensive car journey away for people on the breadline.


Finding solutions that work for rural areas is extremely challenging. The Bevan Foundation has long been arguing for an uplift to UK social security benefits and it has also been pressing the Welsh Government to bring the plethora of grants and allowances into a single, integrated system that would ensure people receive help they’re entitled to. Fine-tuning provision, so that it fits rural as well as urban circumstances, is vital.

Rural issues seem to be much less visible than in the past. The acute hardship being faced by Wales’ rural communities is a wake-up call.

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