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The Labour heartlands remain in Wales’ industrial, urban towns and not one of the Labour Cabinet Secretaries represent rural constituencies in Wales – including the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs.” William Powell for the Liberal


Democrats also spoke about the ‘distance’ between rural Wales and the government: “I would argue that there is another dimension when considering rural poverty - and that is a poverty of esteem and a real feeling of disconnection. “During the last few years, I have


'Farms are the most disadvantaged industry for broadband': Glyn Roberts


"RURAL west Wales is great


place to live. But earning a living isn't easy. Wages are low. Well- paid jobs are hard to find. Poor communications can be maddening and a real bar to small businesses' success. Mobile phone access is easier in Central Africa than some parts of Carmarthenshire. Broadband speeds recall the Steam Age.” Those are the words of Neil


Hamilton, UKIP leader in the Welsh Assembly, his party’s spokesperson on agriculture, and Mid and West Wales AM, who went on to tell The Herald: “As the Labour Government push ahead with huge regeneration projects in Cardiff and Swansea, rural Wales is left behind. The best and brightest youngsters leave the area for work, with no financial incentives to ever return. It paints a bleak, but inevitable picture of the future of Rural West Wales unless changes are made.” And all, or part, of those


words have been echoed by those parties represented in the Welsh Assembly. Apart from one: the Welsh Conservatives, who failed to respond to our request for a comment on the issue, despite receiving that request at the same time as every other respondent we contacted regarding it.


DISCONNECTION AND DISCONTENT


Simon Thomas, Plaid Cymru’s


shadow Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, expounded the same point: “An often-used argument against Westminster and the Welsh Assembly is the London and Cardiff-centric attitudes of the ruling class. As somebody who’s lived in rural West Wales for many years, I can argue vigorously that an Urban/Rural divide exists in Wales, and it needs to change. “As the Assembly Member for


Mid and West Wales, I receive constant cases from constituents who are exhausted and fed-up of pleading with the Government for more resources, working broadband and 21st century infrastructure. “It’s unsurprising that the Welsh Government cares little for rural Wales.


spent a considerable amount of time in the rural communities of West Wales, in all three counties. Many residents feel distant and alienated not only from Westminster and Cardiff Bay, but also from their respective county halls - and this needs to be addressed by Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire as a matter of priority.” And alone among our respondents,


William Powell opened up the issue to include observations on housing provision: "Another important factor that exacerbates rural poverty is the nature of our rural housing stock. With a significant number of homes off grid and many other properties not lending themselves to cost effective retro fitting, I frequently argued for Welsh Government to work up an ambitious programme of retro fitting the rural housing stock, to be co-financed by the European Investment Bank. Even in the grim reality of Brexit, such a bid is possible - and I would urge the Welsh Government to pursue it.”


WHAT IS POVERTY? There are pockets of deprivation


throughout Wales, but the image of poverty as being a solely urban phenomenon is misleading. And what constitutes poverty itself is open to wide interpretation. The measure that is most generally


accepted by most reputable analysts is that a family is in poverty if total income is 60% or less than the UK median income. For the last full year available (2013/14) that UK median was just over £27K per year for a full time employee. It follows, therefore, that in in order for an income to be at the poverty level, it would need to be below 60% of the UK median – that is £14,200. Average incomes in West Wales


are usually cited in the region of £22k per annum. However, that figure only serves to demonstrate how a few high salaries can affect the overall picture. Welsh public policy think tank the Bevan Foundation reports that the majority of Welsh Households earn less than £20k per year and are significantly dependent on Tax Credits and other in- work benefits. A report delivered in May by


the Public Policy Institute Wales (PPIW) suggests that rural poverty is potentially underestimated and that,


while urban poverty is characterised by unemployment, in rural areas the more likely culprit is underemployment and low wages. Because of the small and dispersed population, average wage measures can be skewed by a relatively small number of economically active individuals employed at higher levels within the public services. Moreover, with the measure


for poverty at 60% of the average – incomes under £13,200 classify its recipients as being in poverty. In fact, over 50% of all tax credits in Wales are paid to households whose income is under £10k. Dr Victoria Winkler, Director


of the Bevan Foundation, told The Herald: “In-work poverty is a very real problem in rural Wales. Claims for tax credits - which help with the cost of living for people in work - are very high in Pembrokeshire. In general, in- work poverty is the result of low hourly pay combined with people working part-time. As a result, although people are working, they do not bring home enough to lift them above the poverty threshold. “Poverty is made worse by the


relatively high cost of living in rural areas - housing is more expensive especially in tourist hot spots, essential services like heating your home often cost more, and there's the added cost of transport too. “Having a very low income


blights people's lives and also costs the public purse a great deal - about £4.4 billion a year in Wales. So it is good - economically, socially and morally - to try to reduce poverty. A combination of good quality childcare, support for parents, a good education, decent work and affordable housing and fuel can make real difference.” William Powell agreed: “Rural


poverty is an insidious but growing feature of life in west Wales - and it urgently needs greater focus from politicians at local, national and UK level. “The PPIW report is right to focus


on in work poverty, as that has all too frequently passed under the radar of policy makers, especially given the paucity of public transport in our communities. For those who need to travel to work, a household with one - or even two cars - is reflecting the stark necessity of living and working in our rural communities, and is all too often seen by the analysts as a sign of relative affluence. Nothing could be further


William Powell: ‘Many residents feel distant and alienated’


from the case. “We need to develop a more


sophisticated set of measures that profile the reality of rural poverty, enabling it to be identified and addressed.”


AN AGEING POPULATION Rural local authorities in Wales are


ranked as some of the most deprived areas in relation to access to services and the Welsh Government’s analysis also found that rural areas in Wales are more deprived in terms of services than more urban areas. As councils, banks, and other


service providers have distilled their services into ever fewer locations in large – or comparatively large – towns, there has been a steady continual decline in rural shops, post offices, leisure centres, police stations and health services. The House of Commons has noted that this has a particular impact on people with low incomes who are 'disproportionality affected by reduced and inadequate services'. It also has implications for local


economies since a lack of essential services may make it difficult for businesses in small rural towns to stay viable. What is then created can viewed as a


series of vicious circles - demographic, remoteness, labour market, and employment - which combine and recombine to exacerbate rural poverty. Looking at the first of those – the


demographic issue – reveals worrying trends across the Hywel Dda UHB area covered by The Herald. The demographic issue is that a


lower population density, a higher proportion of elderly residents than in urban areas, out-migration of young people and the resulting low birth rates all have adverse economic impacts. And all of those are happening right


here: in Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion, and Pembrokeshire. The number of adults living over


the age of 75 in each of west Wales’ counties is due to rapidly increase over the next 10 to 15 years. In addition, those adults will not only be living longer - they will be living longer with illness. The burden that represents on public services should not be underestimated and each of west Wales’ councils is desperately trying to come up with a solution – in conjunction with the Health Board – to address how care and support will be delivered to a scattered, older, and sicker population


THE HERALD FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 9 2016


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Rural poverty: West Wales’ hidden crisis


Neil Hamilton: ‘Better communication is the key’


within public service budgets which are already at breaking point. One factor that is frequently


underestimated is that the growing ageing population will be replaced as taxpayers by a much smaller working cohort, which will be neither as well paid nor as secure in work. How government – whether national, devolved, or local – resolves how to get more money out of a smaller and comparatively less well-off working population is an issue that is likely to have a particular impact in rural communities.


TRANSPORT Simon Thomas: “Between the


recent closure of the 701 Aberystwyth to Cardiff bus service and the four hour train journey via Shrewsbury, rural west Wales’ public transport is not fit for purpose in the 21st Century. “Our vision is a Wales where


wealth is shared evenly and power decentralised: for rural West Wales to be an attractive and prosperous, job- creating part of Wales. That’s why Plaid Cymru are keen to re-open the train line between Aberystwyth and Carmarthen. We must connect the nation, with good links between North and South Wales. “A strong and effective transport


connection with Cardiff is one way of enticing big business to rural West Wales.” A press release on a separate issue


from the Welsh Conservatives touched upon the same issue, quoting its shadow transport spokesperson Russell George as saying: “We mustn’t lose sight of the need to develop transport links within Wales. “This country relies heavily on


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