Rural areas are often the hardest hit, Labour conference hears

 Walking the dog in the mid afternoon (4/11/13 4pm) as the winter sun sets over the country side in

Walking the dog in the mid afternoon (4/11/13 4pm) as the winter sun sets over the country side in Mundesley on Sea - Credit:

A 'cost of living crisis' is affecting rural and coastal communities more than poverty in urban and city areas, a conference on the Norfolk and Suffolk border was told.

At a Labour Party conference held at Stradbroke High School to discuss rural issues, East of England MEP Richard Howitt warned: 'There is a cost of living crisis in the countryside.'

He was followed by former ministers Lord Jim Knight and Huw Irranca-Davies, who said poverty was worse in remote areas because people had access to fewer services.

'It impacts more in rural areas as the cost of providing goods and services is disparate areas is higher,' said Mr Irranca-Davies, currently Labour's shadow food and farming spokesman. 'Rural households don't have the same access to what people in cities take for granted.'

Lord Knight said: 'Not only do you have a crude level of disadvantage in rural areas, you have isolation and that compounds the misery of poverty. It is something that is unique to rural areas.'

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Speaking afterwards, Conservative South Norfolk MP Richard Bacon said it was an issue 'rural MPs have been banging on about for many, many years - including under the previous Labour government'.

He said 'rural areas often get a raw deal' and claimed the 'balance of public expenditure is too often in favour of urban areas'. He added: 'Many of the problems in urban areas you encounter in rural areas - but they they are more hidden.'

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One solution, Lord Knight told the conference, is to fix what he called a 'market failure in our market towns' and 'reinvent the viability of those town centres'.

He said: 'Those were places where people came together to exchange goods. In the digital age, that's getting harder. Retail brands are disappearing because they cater for a different age.' He called for market towns to provide 'hubs' where young people can connect to the internet to do their work, without having to pay expensive rail fares into London.

Mr Irranca-Davies added that the living wage should be higher for people in rural areas.

What do you think about Labour's view that there is a 'cost of living crisis' in rural communities? Write, giving your full contact details, to: EDP Letters, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE or email

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