The Hidden Hardship: MP George Freeman’s Call for Action in Rural Communities

The soaring inflation and energy prices brought on by the pandemic and war in Ukraine have plunged the nation into a cost-of-living crisis. But the impact on rural communities is especially severe. A parliamentary report, supported by George Freeman MP‘s recent letter to the Chancellor, lays bare how rural areas face a hidden ‘premium’ that leaves country dwellers uniquely vulnerable to this economic storm. This is particularly evident in the housing sector, where rural residents face higher prices and fewer options, exacerbating the affordability crisis and contributing to increased rates of rural homelessness

In his letter, George Freeman, MP for Mid Norfolk, addresses the Chancellor directly, highlighting the “crippling impact of disproportionately high energy costs on rural communities.” He articulates a ‘triple whammy’ effect where rural homes, more exposed to cold weather and less energy-efficient, suffer due to their off-the-gas-grid status, leading to higher energy and fuel costs. The scarcity of public transport increases dependence on cars, exacerbating the financial strain due to rising petrol prices. Coupled with a lower average wage in rural areas, this creates a dire situation where rural households are disproportionately affected by the cost-of-living crisis. 

The parliamentary report and Freeman’s letter collectively draw attention to the ‘rural premium’ – extra costs, now brutally inflated by the crisis. The lack of public transport, higher petrol prices, and the need to travel longer distances for basic amenities like well-stocked supermarkets compound the issue. Employment challenges, such as lower wages and scarcer, costlier childcare, further disadvantage rural workers. 

The rural housing situation is particularly dire, as noted by both the report and Freeman. Even before the crisis, rural housing was significantly more expensive relative to earnings than in urban areas. With very few affordable housing options and little being done to remedy that, it’s a problem impacting vulnerable and low-income households. Compounded by surging mortgage rates and a shrinking pool of rental properties, this crisis has seen a critical rise in the level of rural homelessness, often remaining ‘hidden’ from official statistics. 

Freeman’s letter, backed by the findings of the parliamentary report, calls for urgent, targeted support. He proposes measures such as bringing the price of electricity per kWh for households not on mains gas down to the same level as that for mains gas and prioritising these properties for insulation improvements. He advocates for a “Fair Fuel Premium Tax Cut” targeted at rural postcodes, which would alleviate some of the financial burdens faced by rural households and businesses. 

Combining the insights from the parliamentary report with Freeman’s plea, it’s clear that rural communities are at a significant disadvantage. They face unique challenges that require specialised solutions. As Freeman argues, without targeted intervention, rural areas will continue to bear the deepest scars from the cost-of-living crisis, especially when it comes to housing affordability 

As advocates for affordable rural homes and those that rely on them, English Rural echoes MP George Freeman’s call to the Chancellor. It’s imperative that the upcoming Budget includes measures specifically designed to alleviate the rural premium, with a strong emphasis on improving housing affordability and accessibility in these areas. Only by addressing these unique challenges, including the urgent need for more affordable rural housing and support for energy-efficient home improvements, can we ensure that rural communities do not slip through the cracks of government support. 

Martin CollettOur Chief Executive, Martin Collett, strongly backs these efforts, saying, “The facts presented by the All-Party Parliamentary Group and the individual stories we hear every day from rural areas highlight the urgent need for specific government intervention, particularly increasing investment on the supply of affordable rural homes. We join George Freeman MP in demanding immediate action to reduce the rural premium and ensure that our rural communities are not neglected in these challenging times. Adequate, affordable housing is essential for the health and stability of rural areas, and it’s time our policies reflect that priority. 

Now, more than ever, our collective support for George Freeman’s initiatives and the recommendation of the parliamentary report is crucial. We must ensure that no one in the countryside is left behind, highlighting the resilience of rural communities and their vital contribution to the national economy. Together, we can turn the tide of the hidden hardship and unlock the full potential of rural areas across England. 

Letter to Chancellor
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