Elderly isolated in the countryside
Aspects of living in the countryside present serious obstacles for many older people, according to a new report.
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, says Age UK's study, Later Life In Rural England.
The charity also carried out a poll which found that nearly one in four people 60 and over who live in rural parts of England says lack of public transport is the biggest challenge they face living in the countryside.
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.
The charity 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.
Michelle Mitchell, Age UK's charity director general, said: "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."
The Prince's Countryside Fund which supports people who live and work in rural areas is backing the report.
Director Victoria Harris said: "We know that rural isolation and lack of services are a real problem across the UK with post offices, village shops and pubs closing at an alarming rate. These closures tend to hit groups such as the elderly particularly hard and combined with the decline of local transport it is a major issue. This report highlights some of the major concerns facing the UK countryside today and we welcome any opportunity to raise awareness of the importance of protecting our rural communities."
The report is published at the start of National Countryside Week.