Poverty hidden in county

DEPRIVATION in many Suffolk communities may be going unnoticed because their plight is hidden by more affluent neighbours, a major new report has revealed.

DEPRIVATION in many Suffolk communities may be going unnoticed because their plight is hidden by more affluent neighbours, a major new report has revealed.

The stark contrast in prosperity in some areas is making it difficult for authorities to tackle issues like access to jobs, affordable home shortages, healthcare and other vital services.

The claims come in a new report published by the Countryside Agency's Commission for Rural Communities, which was launched by Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett.

Dr Stuart Burgess, chairman of the Countryside Agency, said the research confirmed those living on low incomes in urban areas are clustered together while across rural England they are mostly scattered.

"The complexity of rural disadvantage can now be identified at a very local level, showing that in rural Suffolk for example, there are small pockets or small areas of lower income households living cheek by jowl with affluent households," he said.

"This means that measuring disadvantage over too large an area overlooks these pockets and makes rural poverty difficult to address through area based schemes."

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The commission's report Rural Disadvantage: our first thematic study shows there are some small pockets of lower income households in Suffolk, earning an average of between £14,200 to £21,600 annually, in close proximity to areas of real affluence, with households earning between £39,300 and £58,000 per year.

Mrs Beckett said: "Affordable housing of course remains the biggest concern for many communities - especially as the Prime Minister said - in areas where commuting and tourism is putting a high premium on prices."

Wil Gibson, chief executive of rural campaigners Suffolk Acre, said: "If you take Suffolk, there are a number of parishes containing just 200 people or less and they are quite scattered so you might find only one or two households are on low income.

"Their experience is no less than someone living in an urban situation and in fact it can be worse because if you're in a larger community everyone is in the same boat but if you look around your community and are the only family you can feel isolated.

"Even with leisure nowadays it is more commercialised. You have to pay to get into places and need to travel. All those things we take for granted but if you live in a rural situation it can make pressures more stark."

Mr Gibson said a different approach needed to be taken to improve the situation otherwise households would be missed.

"We need to take the whole community approach in order to assist those individual households. We wouldn't necessarily want to target one household because you almost stigmatising that household," he said.

"If you address the benefit of the whole community then they can become involved and share the benefits and not feel like they're being singled out. The Government needs to invest more in rural community development."

The report shows 23% of all rural households have a low income and among those 600,000 are aged above 60.

Average weekly earnings in 2003 were £404 for jobs in remote rural areas, £453 for those in accessible rural areas and £473 in urban areas. A total of 15% of rural households do not own a car.

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