Deprivation warning in rural report

A SHOCKING new report has painted a bleak picture about the quality of life in rural East Anglia – sparking warnings from community leaders for action to be taken.

A SHOCKING new report has painted a bleak picture about the quality of life in rural East Anglia – sparking warnings from community leaders for action to be taken.

Figures released by the Countryside Agency show that some 200,000 people in rural parts of the East of England have no qualifications, and 50,000 do not even have central heating.

There are 250,000 people without a village shop in their parish, and 100,000 living in overcrowded conditions.

The report, released yesterday, urges authorities to push for community development, support the voluntary and community sector, and ensure that existing rural services are as effective as possible.

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Wil Gibson, chief executive of Suffolk ACRE, told the East Anglian Daily Times last night that the figures came as no surprise.

He added: "These are major problems. We've been doing a lot of village appraisals and there are a lot of people who are capital rich and revenue poor.

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"They may have a large house but their income generally isn't that great and they find themselves in real need.

"In certain communities there are really low expectations in terms of education, and many children see very little opportunity in their future.

"If Suffolk is going to be successful, these are the major issues we need to address."

Mr Gibson also called for more investment in community enterprise, encouraging people to club together and run their own shops, evening classes and basic services.

"These are solvable problems," he added. "There is no problem that is insurmountable. We just need to be creative and use our resources in a different way.

"I think there's a growing recognition among the major players in the county that things need to change."

John Williams, chief executive of the Suffolk Development Agency (SDA) said: "Access to services is clearly a very significant issue for rural areas like Suffolk.

"This report does show a very significant problem in terms of rural deprivation and social exclusion, and we will be looking at it very carefully."

Mr Williams added that the regional development agency is in the early stages of a programme called 'Investing in Communities', which seeks to tackle some of the issues raised in the Countryside Agency report.

He added: "We are at the very beginning of a process which will involve discussion with the East of England Development Agency (EEDA) as to how we can use funds to tackle issues that are perhaps revealed in this report.

"What EEDA are looking for are long term, ten-year plans which comprehensively tackle the issue of deprivation and social exclusion right across the East of England."

The Rt Rev Graham James, Bishop of Norwich, has written to more than 500 local and regional bodies to urge them to act on the report.

He said: "This report contains some shocking statistics which should be addressed as a priority.

"I am gravely concerned for the sick and disabled, lone parents, low-paid workers, pensioners, minority ethnic groups and those rural households who do not have access to a car – all of whom have been identified as key groups of concern by this important report.

"I hope that everyone who is involved in the allocation of resources in this region will act now to ensure that the quality of life for the people who make up these statistics is improved measurably before the next survey is undertaken."

A spokesman for the Countryside Agency said of the report: "Many people in rural areas need an extra bit of help so that they can participate fully in things most of us take for granted.

"The Countryside Agency is offering potential guidelines for regional organisations about how to do this."

n Suffolk ACRE is set to hold a major conference on community enterprise on June 30. For more information, call 01473 242500.

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