A new Age UK poll finds that nearly one in four people aged 60 and over who live in rural parts of England say lack of public transport is the biggest challenge they face living in the countryside.
The polling coincides with the launch of Age UK’s report Later Life In Rural England. The report finds that aspects of living in the countryside present serious obstacles for many older people. These include cuts to local bus services, a lack of nearby shops and services, high cost of heating and living, lack of access to health and social care and difficulties getting broadband.
Rural communities are ageing faster than other parts of the UK with approximately half of the rural population aged over 45, compared with 36% in major urban areas.
Across rural England, the number of people aged over 65 with social care needs is projected to increase by 70% over the next 16 years.
The number of cases of depression, stroke, falls and dementia is also projected to grow between 50 and 60%, compared with up to 42% in urban areas.
Age UK estimates that 1.5 million older people in rural areas are reliant on oil to heat their homes which frequently costs more than electricity and gas and can only be bought in large quantities, resulting in sizeable upfront costs.
In addition studies have found that prices in rural areas are typically 10-20% higher than in urban areas.
Age UK is calling on the Government and local authorities to ensure that the needs and interests of older people are taken into account when rural policies and programmes are designed and delivered. Decisions to the future of rural services should not be based simply on cost and the number of people using services. Local authorities must always assess the impact that cutting a service would have on older people.
In particular, Age UK is calling for the prevention of loneliness to be made a priority, which has been shown to be as harmful as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Age UK is also calling for rural communities to be actively involved in planning services and shaping local decisions.
Michelle Mitchell, Age UK’s Charity Director General, said: “Life in rural England is very tough for many people. Too many are stranded at home, lonely and isolated, struggling to the shops, Post Office and even hospital, because of a lack of local bus services.
“The high cost of heating because so many rural homes are badly insulated and are off the mains gas grid as well as the challenge of getting adequate social care all add up to make life in the countryside difficult for many and far from the stereotype of a rural paradise.
“With rural communities ageing rapidly, it’s more critical than ever that the Government and local authorities make sure that the older people who live there, many of them frail and vulnerable, have access to the services and facilities they need to live as independent and fulfilling lives as possible.”
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