The Rural Lives project investigated why and how people in rural areas experience and negotiate poverty and social exclusion, with a focus on financial hardship and vulnerability. It examined the roles of societal processes, individual circumstances, and various sources of support (including markets, state, voluntary and community organisations, and family and friends).

This additional report examines in greater depth the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns on individuals experiencing financial hardship and vulnerability in rural areas, and the responses to those impacts. Using the Rural Lives evidence and other research published since March 2020, we present key lessons and opportunities for supporting rural individuals experiencing financial hardship now and post-pandemic.

Lower population densities and less reliance on and availability of public transport have meant it has been easier to maintain social distancing and thereby reduce spread of the virus in rural areas. However, the economic impact has been severe to date in rural Britain, partly because of a higher reliance on the tourism and hospitality sector.

The national lockdown that began in March 2020 delivered a huge shock to rural economies and societies, most obviously through the temporary closure of many businesses and the loss of earnings to employees, self-employed and freelance workers. These impacts reinforce the importance of diversifying rural economies that rely heavily on tourism and hospitality, and of promoting ‘good work’ which offers a reasonable, secure income.

The pandemic has also amplified the impacts of digital exclusion in rural areas, impacting on many aspects of the pandemic, from children’s ability to engage in home-based online learning, to people’s access to advice and support services in relation to welfare applications.

Voluntary and community organisations have been crucial in ensuring that hard-to-reach groups have access to financial and other support. However, many of these organisations face a challenging future with respect to their financial resources, particularly if council budgets are squeezed further, and in respect of their ability to generate income.

A wide range of formal and informal groups across the public and voluntary sectors have provided support to individuals experiencing financial hardship during the pandemic. These groups give people different ‘entry’ points to the welfare system and other support structures, depending on their individual networks. As the economic impacts of the pandemic unfold, it is increasingly important that service providers and the voluntary sector in rural areas continue to play a joined-up signposting role, connecting their clients with information and advice.

While it was known pre-Covid that a substantial proportion of rural residents are at risk of poverty and experience financial vulnerability, the Rural Lives research suggests that many more rural residents will be at risk of financial hardship and vulnerability in the near future, as the full impacts of the pandemic play out and sources of support become more constrained. In short, many rural residents will be at risk of poverty unless appropriate action is taken.


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Cite as

Glass, J., Shucksmith, M., Chapman, P. & Atterton, J. 2021, Covid-19, lockdowns and financial hardship in rural areas: Insights from the Rural Lives project, Rural Lives. Available at: https://pure.sruc.ac.uk/en/publications/covid-19-lockdowns-and-financial-hardship-in-rural-areas-insights

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Last updated: 17 May 2024
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