Memorandum by Countryside Agency (GRI
Government policy to address deprivation, regeneration
and disadvantage is based on three main approaches: mainstream
programmes, special nationwide programmes, and increasingly, area
Area-based approaches to tackling disadvantage
were established to speed up progress on national priorities,
in particular in education, health, crime and employment. In recent
years the use of area-based programmes as a policy instrument
has gained momentum. There are a variety of programmes from a
number of government departments, including the New Deal for Communities,
Health Action Zones, Education Action Zones, Employment Zones,
Sure Start and others.
Given the increasing number of Area-Based Initiatives
(ABIs) and the considerable funding attached to them, the Countryside
Agency has been concerned about whether they are capable of targetting
rural disadvantage effectively and equitably.
In the light of our research, based on evidence
from and experience of various ABIs in operation, we reach the
following two key conclusions:
Area-Based Initiatives based on geographically
defined areas may be suitable for tackling concentrations of disadvantage
but they are not best suited to tackling rural disadvantage, because
of the sparsity of rural populations, the dispersed pattern of
rural settlements and the intermingling of households of often
widely disparate incomes. There is also a danger that over concentration
on ABIs disguises the failure of mainstream policies to deliver
equitably in rural and urban areas. The Countryside Agency supports
recent government moves to limit the number of new ABIs and would
like to see the focus for tackling disadvantage delivered by improving
mainstream services and through the targeting of particular sectors
or groups (not areas).
Where ABIs continue to be used, then
specialised indices (which target rural deprivation) and a range
of mechanisms to distribute funding (combining spatial targeting
with thematic targeting) and flexibility of operation and delivery
to meet varying rural circumstances would, in our view be a more
efficient and equitable way of ensuring that such initiatives
also address rural disadvantage.
In the light of these conclusions, we recommend
Government Departments should rural
proof the ABIs for which they are responsible and as they develop
new ones to ensure they take account of the needs and circumstances
of rural areas and, in particular, that they do not disadvantage
Government should consider using
rural indices of disadvantage, in addition to the Index of Multiple
Deprivation, when targeting areas in order ensure rural disadvantage
is identified. These could draw upon the set of indicators developed
by the Countryside Agency which map rural disadvantage in England
and which are designed to improve understanding of the social
and economic problems which people face in rural areas and to
show where such problems occur.
While the ABI approach is useful
in targeting concentrations of disadvantage, alternative forms
of targeting are likely to be more effective in meeting rural
disadvantage. For example, consideration should be given to thematic
funding which is targeted on groups of people and communities
rather than areas. Alternatively, government departments could
"ring fence" a proportion of the funding available to
meet needs in rural areas, and which can be applied more flexibly.
"Bending" mainstream government
expenditure is increasingly seen as an alternative to the ABI
approach to targeting. However, this could be equally disadvantageous
to rural areas if this is used to target concentrations of disadvantage.
Additionally, the Neighbourhood Renewal Unit (NRU) approach to
tackling disadvantage has focused on the "worst" 88
neighbourhood areas. While there are some rural areas in the 88
Neighbourhood Renewal Fund areas, a neighbourhood-based approach
will inevitably exclude most rural areas and the NRU essentially
oversee 88 ABIs. This has reinforced concerns about current approaches
to tackling disadvantage. Any proposals for targetting disadvantage
in future must be fully rural proofed.
The lessons from the development
of the SureStart Initiative and its application to rural children
and families should be widely disseminated and the more flexible
approach it demonstrates to the terms and operation of such schemes
in rural areas adopted across government.
The role of access to good quality
green spaces in tackling disadvantage needs to be incorporated
at the heart of policy priorities and should be taken into account
in particular by those responsible for regeneration, health care,
education, environment, sport and recreation and community safety.
This submission focusses on the main issues
for rural areas, including rural definitions; evidence of rural
disadvantage; the targeting of ABIs; how ABIs can be made to target
rural areas effectively; and the role the countryside and greenspace
can play in urban regeneration.
1. RURAL DEFINITIONS
One of the problems experienced by policy-makers
in developing approaches to rural disadvantage is the lack of
a common definition of rural areas. The Countryside Agency is
currently working with the Office for National Statistics and
DEFRA to develop a new definition of rural areas. The existing
definition most commonly used (SOCCODE) seeks to capture urban-rurality
as a socio-economic concept using explanatory variables such as
population density, share of employment in agriculture and use
of public transport. Under this definition 4,076 (48 per cent)
of the 8,414 wards in England can be defined as rural.
2. RURAL DISADVANTAGEEVIDENCE
"Social Exclusion is almost entirely an
urban problem" (Anne Power, Poor Areas and Social Exclusion,
2000, Adviser to the Social Exclusion Unit).
Social exclusion is often perceived as an urban
issue and rural areas are seen as relatively affluent. Where there
is recognition, the rural socially excluded are perceived as less
deprived than their urban counterparts on the grounds that their
physical and social environment is better. This perception may
discourage the redirection of targeting of ABIs beyond urban areas.
However, extensive research for the Countryside Agency has identified
and highlighted the scale and nature of rural disadvantage and
social exclusion. For example, 23 per cent of the 5.92 million
rural households have income levels indicative of povertyan
income of less than 60 per cent of the average household income.
(State of the Countryside 2002).
3. PROBLEMS IN
Rural areas can be disadvantaged for a number
of reasons by the Area-Based Initiative approach. The use of standard
indicators to target ABIs; the ecology of rural disadvantage;
the bidding systems; and the fungibility of expenditure all contribute
to the needs of rural areas being misunderstood or overlooked.
Disadvantage in rural areas tends to be scattered
and dispersed. It is often to be found side by side with affluence.
Average figures will tend to hide increasing polarisation (eg
in 1997 27 per cent of all households in Cotswold District had
annual incomes of less than £7,000 whereas 33 per cent had
incomes in excess of £25,000). Therefore, the standard indicators
of deprivation which are used to target ABIs are less appropriate
in identifying disadvantage in rural areas than in cities. Most
disadvantage indicators do not reflect adequately rural needs
and costs. The Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD2000) does now
include a "rural" indicator (access to services), but,
if rural needs are to be fully reflected, it is important that
policy makers consider indicators other than IMD2000 in targeting
resources at the most "needy areas". The IMD draws on
statistics that are more likely to measure aspects of deprivation
that occur in urban areas. For example, the income domain is based
largely upon means-tested benefits and there is evidence that
a larger proportion of people in rural areas do not take up their
full benefit entitlement. Nor does the IMD recognise the characteristics
of rural employment, such as low-pay, part-time, seasonal, casual
or underemployment and multiple jobs.
The meaning and impact of some measures will
also be different. For example, not having access to a car is
a far more serious matter in rural than in urban areas. A greater
proportion of low income households in rural areas own cars because
of the lack of alternative, public transport services. The impact
of using traditional indicators to target ABIs can be shown by
the location of Employment Zones in England. Research for the
Countryside Agency (Government Expenditure in Rural England,
2001, DTZ) has shown that 97 per cent of Employment Zone expenditure
goes toward urban wards; three per cent goes towards mixed wards
and wholly rural wards receive nothing. However, an analysis of
Employment Zone funding, using the Employment Deprivation rankings
in the Employment Domain of the IMD 2000 to measure "need",
shows that, if Employment Zones were targeting the worst 25 per
cent of wards on the IMD, rural areas should expect to receive
at least 2.6 per cent of Employment Zone expenditure. The New
Deal for Communities programme is targeted using the Index of
Local Deprivation. None of the 39 New Deal for Communities areas
is in rural areas.
(ii) The Ecology of Rural Disadvantage
Rural areas are by their nature less segregated
than urban areas, for both social and geographical reasons. In
contrast to urban areas, there are few spatial concentrations
of deprivation. Where such concentrations do exist, they are often
the result of the decline of particular industries ie former coalfield
and tin mining areas. Moreover, wards and parishes are physically
larger than in the cities, which will tend to make them less homogenous.
To this extent, any effort to target high concentrations of poverty
will systematically favour urban areas. For example, the 20 per
cent most deprived wards on the IMD 2000 contain 53 per cent of
the national population in receipt of Income Support or Job Seekers
Allowance, but only 20 per cent of claimants who live in rural
areas. Recent research by the London School of Economics (CASE,
Targeting Social Exclusion, 2001) has highlighted how the
ABI approach does not work well for rural areas, because it is
both less efficient and less complete, eg area targeting in rural
areas will inevitably benefit some residents who are not deprived
(there is a degree of inefficiency), whilst missing out large
numbers of disadvantaged people who are living elsewhere (there
will be a lack of completeness). This contrasts with urban areas,
where the concentrations of disadvantage make ABIs attractive
to policy makers, where essentially you get more "bang for
your buck". ie there are higher levels of efficiency (most
residents are deprived) and completeness (large numbers are "captured").
The recent focus on tackling disadvantage in "neighbourhoods"
has reinforced the impression of deprivation as an ecological
characteristic, whereby the mere fact of living in a "poor
area" makes you disadvantaged. Hence the focus has moved
away from the individual and by definition rural areas.
(iii) Bidding Systems
Most ABI programmes require local involvement
and funding. However, rural local authorities, especially in remoter
areas, tend to be relatively poorly resourced, whilst often covering
a large geographical area. There is also a lack of capacity in
the rural voluntary sector. Research funded by the Agency shows
that almost 75 per cent of rural voluntary organisations have
an income of less than £10,000 per year. The rural sector
is more heavily dependent on volunteers and there is less training,
use of ICT and limited capacity to develop and work in networks.
Research has found that ABIs which call for partnerships and bids
are more difficult to respond to in rural areas and subsequently
rural areas can miss out (Targeting of Special InitiativesCambridge
Policy Consultants, 1999).
The allocation of resources through ABIs can
carry an inherent risk. There is a danger that, while the initial
allocation of ABI funding may represent a "fair allocation",
the local expenditure is "fungible"spending may
be skewed away from the rural wards for which it was originally
intended and towards urban wards. Countryside Agency research
(Government Expenditure in Rural England, 2001, DTZ), which
looked at the performance of Action Teams for Jobs in Cornwall
noted that, while this was ostensibly a "rural" ABI,
in practice the local focus was towards a social housing estate
in the area. Such a scenario could be repeated in the "rural"
Neighbourhood Renewal Fund areas. For example, will the funding
to Wear Valley in practice concentrate its funding on Bishop Auckland
rather than Stanhope?
4. GOOD PRACTICE
There are examples of where ABIs have been adjusted
and made to work in rural areas. One such is the Government's
SureStart was established in 1998 as a key part
of the Government's strategy to end child poverty by 2020. The
target is to establish 500 programmes by 2004, with a total revenue
of £0.5 billion a year. So far 260 programmes have been announced
in four waves. In rounds one and two there were only three rural
SureStart schemes. One of these was a Fenland pilot, the others
were in East Cleveland and Bolsover (Derbyshire).
The Countryside Agency commissioned some research
to establish why there were so few rural Sure Starts and how rural
children and their families could benefit from this important
initiative. The study aimed to:
develop a better understanding about
why rural SureStart programmes weren't emerging from the bidding
to develop a better understanding
of what would enable the authorities responsible for services
in rural communities to nominate rural areas for a SureStart programme
to identify the particular challenges
rural Sure Start programmes would face.
The research found that the critical factor
was the Sure Start criteria, using the ILDward based indicators
of deprivation which identified large clusters of disadvantage
in urban areas but did not pick up the pockets of deprivation
in rural areas.
As a result four key changes were suggested
to the targeting criteria:
greater flexibility over numbersbecause
of lower absolute numbers of children under four rural areas failed
to meet the specified thresholds
a greater understanding of what a
coherent neighbourhood was. The criteria were framed to identify
an inner city estate or similar identifiable urban community.
In rural areas a community can cover many square miles and encompass
several villages or a market town and its surrounding hinterland
a recognition that the existing service
base was low in rural areasso there was a lack of facilities
on which to base SureStart programmes
an appreciation that the cost of
providing services in rural areas was high compared with a comparable
number of children in urban areas.
As a result of the research the SureStart National
Unit made changes to the national criteria to enable rural areas
to participate. Core SureStart principles of non-stigmatising
and universal services were maintained, but the key changes were:
longer planning timescales to reflect
the time taken to achieve community involvement
higher revenue cost per child to
allow for higher cost of providing services in rural areas
acceptance of a larger catchment
areato cover a number of villages, small towns and surrounding
There are now ten rural SureStart programmes
in Rounds three and four following this change to the criteria.
Most of these programmes are still in the early stages of development
and delivery, but what is interesting is the new approaches they
are developing to service delivery and the problems of addressing
From discussions with the SureStart National
Unit it is clear that there is a lack of data available below
ward level to identify disadvantage. Programme planners use a
variety of sources of informationfree school meals, benefit
records and at risk registers but this information is not always
available and often the most useful source of information is the
local knowledge of health visitors or head teachers. SureStart
have now introduced a new round of "Mini" rural SureStarts
specifically targeted at rural areas to address the issue of pockets
5. RURAL LESSONS
The provision of good quality green spaces can
make an important contribution to regeneration and renewal projects,
as well as enhancing the image of a neighbourhood or a whole town.
In addition, there are economic benefits including helping to
raise property values, creating quality townscapes and helping
to build business and community confidence. It is a highly visible
indicator of whether an area is an attractive place for people
to live and for business to locate. Green space has a role to
play in promoting healthy living and preventing illness, by providing
places for walking, cycling and other physical activities and
can provide opportunities for voluntary and community activities
for all members of the community. Green spaces are also important
for education and life-long learning, environment and ecology
and heritage and culture.
The role of green spaces in regeneration needs
to be better understood and included in funding for regeneration
projects, particularly in urban areas.