Challenges facing rural communities

Population growth

The rural population increased by 0.4 million between 2011 and 2017. However, the proportion of the total population living in rural areas fell from 17.2 per cent to 17.0 per cent over the same time period, as the urban population increased at a faster rate.

ONS Rural Population Statistics


In 2007 80.5% of the UK’s population lived in urban areas, by 2017 that had risen to 83.1%


The population in rural areas has a higher proportion of older people. Just over 45 per cent of those living in rural areas are aged below 45 years, compared with almost 60 per cent in urban areas.

The average age in rural areas was 44.6 years in 2017, 5.6 years older than in urban areas. The gap in average ages between rural and urban areas has widened from 3.4 years in 2002.

ONS Population Profiles


Rural areas have significantly lower rates of bus use compared with urban areas, and in recent years services provision has become piecemeal and fragmented. Between 2011/12 and 2016/17, rural bus mileage fell by over six per cent. During this period, patronage on supported bus services in non-metropolitan areas of England fell by more than 30 per cent and in Wales by 44 per cent

The Future of Rural Bus Services in the UK – Campaign for Better Transport:


“rural areas saw a net loss of 231 pubs in the six months to July 2016”

The Morning Advertiser – pub trade newsletter

“Senior doctors have told the BBC that GP surgeries in rural regions are in crisis as they say it is a struggle to recruit family doctors in remote areas”

BBC News, September 2015

“According to the Rural Shops Alliance, an estimated 200 village shops are closing every year and around 2,500 have shut their doors in the last decade”

The Guardian – July 2014

“Mobile library services are being cut back across the country, leaving millions of rural residents without regular access to books, figures show”

The Telegraph – June 2019


“there are more than 2,000 schools in England with fewer than 100 pupils. They tend to be in rural areas and, while often successful, can be seen as expensive”

The Guardian – May 2016

For a given level of deprivation, the attainment levels of pupils living in rural areas were lower than for pupils living in urban areas with a similar level of deprivation

Department for Education – Attainment Statistics


“Social isolation is a really important and growing issue in the countryside”

Lorraine Smyth, chief executive of Action with Communities in Cumbria

“Thousands of churches could be closed down for most of the year under new plans being considered by the Church of England….at churches in many rural areas, Sunday worshippers are in single figures”

BBC News – December 2015

The percentage of households in rural areas in absolute low income was 13 per cent before housing costs and 15 per cent after housing costs

Defra – Rural Poverty 2016/17


“we have a rural housing crisis. High house prices, low wages, seasonal rental and jobs markets, high levels of second home ownership, and an ageing population are all piling pressure on to rural communities and local services”

Rural Housing: Countryside in crisis – National Housing Federation, 2014


“nearly one in 10 dairy farms across England and Wales have closed in the last three years, according to the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB)”

BBC News – July 2016

In 2017 there were 46 registered business start-ups per 10,000 population in predominantly rural areas compared with 55 per 10,000 population in predominantly urban areas. The average turnover per person employed is greater in urban areas, especially urban conurbations, and lower in rural areas, especially those in a sparse setting

ONS – Rural Business Statistics 2019

In 2018, median workplace-based earnings in predominantly urban areas (excluding London) were £23,300 while predominantly rural areas were lower at £21,900

ONS – Rural Earnings Statistics 2019

Next: Read about the workshop we held with rural experts