This blog was contributed by Alice Woudhuysen, Senior Campaigner at Age UK.
It’s a well-known fact that we live in a rapidly ageing society, to the extent that by 2083, about one in three people in the UK will be over 60 (ONS 2009).
Perhaps less well known is the fact that rural communities are ageing faster than their urban counterparts, with the number of people aged 85+ set to increase by 186 per cent by 2028 in rural areas, compared with just 149 per cent in the UK as a whole (Oxford Consultants for Social Inclusion, for Cabinet Office, 2009). This is down to rising life expectancy, the outward migration of younger people to cities and the inward migration of people entering middle age to the countryside.
Living in the countryside as an older person certainly has its advantages; as well as the opportunity to enjoy a beautiful environment, rural areas can also offer peace and quiet and there are proportionally fewer instances of cancer, stroke and coronary heart disease compared to urban areas.
Yet while the ‘rural idyll’ holds true for some people, the unique characteristics of rural areas, with their low population densities and distance between residential and commercial centres, can bring additional challenges for older people. These include higher living costs, housing that is hard to heat and maintain, poor transport links and more limited social networks.
This week Age UK launched a new report ,‘Later life in rural England’, presenting these challenges and showcasing the ways of overcoming them, drawing especially on examples of creative practice from local Age UKs.
These examples demonstrate how resourceful many rural communities are and how there is a great opportunity for both rural and urban communities to learn from them.
However, while community action can provide some solutions, it cannot do it all on its own, nor can this activity happen at no financial cost, even when it’s carried out largely by volunteers.
The cost must be acknowledged and met and there is also a need for a national policy framework that responds to the special circumstances and requirements of the countryside.
That’s why, in our report, we’re calling for all levels of government to:
- ‘rural proof’ policy and services that may have an impact on rural areas and make older people a priority in this process
- take the ‘rural premium’ and social value of services into account
- support community participation
- target social isolation in rural areas.
Community action and government policy must therefore go hand in hand and rural ageing must be recognised and understood when decisions are made at all levels of government. Only then will rural England be a place where all older people can thrive.
Find out more about Age UK’s report ‘Later life in rural England’ at www.ageuk.org.uk/rural