Cost of living in countryside soars by £2,000
The cost of living in the rural Westcountry is £2,000 a year more expensive for everyday items like food, fuel and petrol compared to urban areas.
Inflation in countryside areas has also risen almost twice as fast as in the UK as a whole, according to a new study compiled by rural insurer NFU Mutual.
An analysis of spending on items including fuel, electricity, food and drink showed that "rural inflation" increased by 7.7 per cent over the past year, compared to the national average of 4.3 per cent.
It means a basket of 21 goods and services, from petrol and food bills to vehicle repair costs, totalled £5,992 a year for people living in rural areas. The UK average is £3,986.
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The report, the insurer's new quarterly Countryside Living Index, said the gulf was down to increased fuel and electricity prices, which had a bigger impact on people living in the countryside.
Tim Price, NFU Mutual rural affairs spokesman, said: "For some time there has been concern from our customers that rural communities are being disproportionately hit by rising prices – particularly for heating and transport.
"The results provide hard evidence that this is indeed the case.
"In many parts of the countryside in the South West, these rises are making it particularly hard for many rural dwellers to make ends meet."
The long-standing issue of the high price of petrol and diesel in the countryside and the distances involved in getting goods to shops, as well as the miles travelled by shoppers, were largely to blame for the cost of living increase.
Its research showed people living in rural areas, often with limited access to public transport, typically have to travel at least twice as far to reach their nearest shops and amenities as urban dwellers – 5.3 miles compared to 2.6 miles.
Inferior broadband speeds and reception also limited the practicality of internet shopping, where goods could be delivered to the doorstep. The result was that car owners in countryside areas spent an average of £30.37 a week on petrol, compared to £20.60 for people who live in towns.
NFU Mutual found the price of food in rural areas cost between 5 and 10 per cent more than in conurbations, with meat, tea and coffee having the biggest difference in price compared to urban areas.
Heating oil was another factor, costing up to four times as much as an urban property served by mains gas.
"While price rises are hitting everyone, we think that the elderly and young are bearing the brunt," Mr Price added.
"Many elderly people retire to the countryside in South West England seeking peace and quiet in a friendly attractive environment. However, since the economic downturn began five years ago, returns on savings have fallen, but heating and transport costs have rocketed.
"For young people in remote parts of the South West – particularly Cornwall – it is proving increasingly hard to find jobs paying sufficiently well in rural areas for them to be able to afford to run a car to get to and from work and meet high rent or mortgage payments – while also facing high heating bills.
"We're dedicated to helping our members make the most of their money so we'll be repeating the survey every quarter so that over time we can build up a very clear picture of the true impact of rising prices on the rural community."
Despite rising prices, rural living beat city-dwelling life satisfaction scores in most other areas, with rural-dwellers enjoying particularly higher levels of satisfaction with their health and local environment. As a result, the report found, countryside residents are happier overall and less stressed than their urban counterparts.
The Countryside Living Index, based on a survey of 1,300 people living in rural areas across the country, will be published quarterly, with special reports on cost of living, crime, education, local economy, health and the environment later this year.
NFU Mutual chairman Richard Percy said: "Our findings show that, on the whole, people living in the countryside have a better quality of life than their urban counterparts, but that costs associated with this are becoming increasingly difficult to bear for families on lower incomes.
"While there are clearly lots of people who pay this 'countryside premium' willingly, and can well afford to do so, we cannot lose sight of the fact that there are also many others in rural areas who don't enjoy the luxury of being able to move to cheaper areas and are struggling to make ends meet."