‘Rural premium’ hitting remote communities

​Rural areas are facing “the perfect storm” of rising costs through inflation and are more disproportionately affected than their counterparts elsewhere, according to a committee of MPs in Westminster.
Even before the cost of living crisis, the islands faced crippling levels of fuel povertyEven before the cost of living crisis, the islands faced crippling levels of fuel poverty
Even before the cost of living crisis, the islands faced crippling levels of fuel poverty

​The Scottish Affairs Committee have been investigating how remote communities have been particularly hit by cost rises across three key areas - energy, food security and transport.

In a report published this week, they said that funding assistance schemes, while welcome, were not sufficiently “rural-proofed” and did not meet the needs of remote communities who face a “rural premium”, referring to higher prices paid relative to urban areas for the same goods and services.

Examples cited by the Committee include exposure to fuel price inflation due to being more reliant on transport, a reliance on expensive alternative fuels for off-grid households and higher charges for food deliveries to remote locations.

The MPs acknowledged the unprecedented package of support provided by the UK Government, but had prioritised administrative ease to accelerate funds getting to people rather than specifically targeting financial support for those who need it most. They suggested that financial support tailored towards remote communities experiencing the ‘rural premium’ would have more effectively alleviated the acute and unique pressures those households face.

Evidence submitted as part of the inquiry showed that even prior to the sharp increase in fuel prices, the highest rates of fuel poverty in Scotland were found in Na h-Eileanan Siar (40%). Food security had also contributed to a “cost of surviving crisis”, with delayed plans to improve ferry and road infrastructure further exacerbating difficulties.

The committee has now called on the Scottish and UK Governments to work together to better understand the challenges facing rural communities.

Committee Chair Pete Wishart MP said: “People living in remote parts of Scotland have found themselves in a perfect storm of poorly-insulated, high energy usage homes with an extended journey to local amenities and food shopping bills off the charts.

“Schemes implemented by both the UK and Scottish Governments have been welcome in large parts of Scotland, but the reality is these households have been lumbered with a ‘rural premium’ that hasn’t been adequately addressed by state support.”

He added: “I hope both the UK and Scottish Governments will use this time to properly understand the support these communities will need to prevent them falling further into poverty should we face similar problems in the future.”