There is perhaps no chunk of land as preened and cultivated as the British countryside, little has changed since Britain’s rural exodus in the 1800s, except barrels of cider and an infrequent housing development. From the outset it can all seem wildly boring; and you would not be wrong in assuming so.
For young people it is death sentence and for retirees and ex-city dwellers, a microcosm of the good life. I recall days walking 15km to the nearest supermarket just to put beer money in my pocket, so you can see where I fit in. This weekly pilgrimage was a success story believe it or not. Other village companions fared a lot worse and we were constantly lectured on how lucky we were to live here – crime is low, air is clean, and any further virtues would be a stretch of the imagination.
For those financially better off in our village platoon, the greenery was a blessing or at the very least, a discrete place to reap the “benefits” of underage drinking before university. The other half, indirectly, have felt that 42% drop in core government funding for rural local authorities.
Steven Cooper, chair of the Social Mobility Commission, lauds this not as a “north versus south or urban versus rural” problem but of “local areas side by side with different outcomes”. While Cooper is eagerly avoiding upset with this angle; the reports true findings paint an uglier picture of inequality.
Urban areas have historically been treated as the sick man of England in respect to social mobility; yet the concentration of internships and access schemes in these areas, tell a different story. Cheaper public transport and more job opportunities increase accessibility – proximity is king here. Recent drives to increase the number of apprenticeships and university access schemes will not circumvent these issues, and more likely to exacerbate them.
Disadvantaged young people living in a city will have a much greater chance of getting an apprenticeship than disadvantaged people from rural areas. London currently holds 29 of the top 32 mobility hotspots in a 2017 report from the SMB. There is no sign of this changing even amidst a remote working revolution – placing Britain’s white-collar workers into their home-cum-permanent office spaces, giving companies a lesser focus on the city.
Whilst spreading the workforce has its benefits – it rarely extends to industry newcomers. If anything, increasing remoteness inflates rural house prices; rising around 2% since the pandemic began, further masking the level of neglect towards young people stuck in areas seemingly full to the brim with old money.
“Newcomers again”, mutters Iain Morrison; local carpenter turned village dog walker by evening. He is one of many noticing this city diaspora and the upcoming census is likely to reflect this sentiment. Possibly, there is room for a revival in some of Britain’s sleepiest abodes. Maybe this will bring back a sense of community the country has so willingly abandoned in recent years. Although history repeats itself and a younger generation will lose out as transport services operate at reduced capacity and local jobs become scarce in semi-gentrified villages.
A spokesman from the Rural Services Network highlighted that public spending on rural public infrastructure is 44% less than in Urban areas; a telling tale of Westminster’s dissonance towards young people outside of London, eager to fully integrate into the working world. There are no easy answers to such a fiscal imbalance, yet the Chancellor must recognise the impact this will have on the psyche of a nation already at the mercy of its largest city in his upcoming budget.