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CPRE survey reveals the factors pushing young people out of the countryside

13 October 2021

Lousy public transport, loneliness and lack of affordable housing are pushing young people out of the countryside, a CPRE survey has revealed.

  • Only two in five young people living in rural areas (43%) anticipate staying there over the next five years, with genuinely affordable housing being their biggest concern (72%);
  • Social housing waiting lists continue to grow – as separate analysis shows the backlog would take 121 years to clear in rural areas;
  • More than three-quarters of young people who do not want to stay in the countryside surveyed said poor digital connectivity had influenced their desire to move (76%);
  • Limited public transport and difficulty connecting with friends online appear to have increased feelings of isolation – 84% of those looking to move away said loneliness was a factor.

A chronic lack of genuinely affordable housing, loneliness and poor public transport have left young people living in the countryside so disillusioned only two in five plan to stay put over the next five years (43%), a new online survey commissioned by CPRE, the countryside charity, and conducted by YouGov, has found.

It revealed the government’s levelling up agenda could come too late for today’s rural young people. The soaring cost of housing was identified as the single biggest concern in the nationwide rural survey of 16 to 25-year-olds; 72% said it was a key problem and more than 8 in 10 of those wanting to leave identified it as a major factor (84%).

Amid delays to long-awaited planning reforms, this unique survey of more than 1,000 young people living in rural areas found that just 43% of them plan to still be there beyond the next five years. Fewer than 1 in 5 (18%) think the future looks bright. Of those planning to leave, 84% said affordable housing was an important factor in their decision.

Freya Davies, 18, from Northamptonshire, a Flore parish councillor and member of the Northamptonshire Youth Crime Commission, said:

‘There is no way, when I eventually move out of my parents’ place, that I’ll be able to afford to stay in the village. I don’t really want to move out but it’s just not affordable for me. I think all that will happen is that you just end up with an ageing rural population. I think it is something that we’ve already started to get but as house prices go up in rural areas you just won’t have families, you won’t have young people being able to stay.

‘In developments, very often houses are labelled affordable – they just say it’s affordable housing – when it isn’t actually affordable. You don’t find very many starter homes or rental homes. It’s just really hurtful. I put quite a lot into the village and it sort of feels like I’m being pushed out. I don’t want to go. I really like living here but there’s just no option for me.’

A separate analysis by CPRE found the demand for social housing was growing nearly six times faster than the rate of supply in rural areas. At current rates, the backlog of low-income families needing accommodation would take 121 years to clear. Figures show 8,898 households were added to social housing waiting lists in 88 rural local authority areas between 2019-20, the last year for which figures are available, with just 1,453 social homes delivered. In total 176,058 rural families were waiting for accommodation in 2020, up from 167,160 in 2019.

Commenting on the survey findings, Crispin Truman, chief executive of CPRE, the countryside charity, said:

‘A thriving countryside depends on young people being able to study, work and start families in rural areas. But the sad reality is that the majority of young people born and raised in the countryside feel they can no longer afford to live there – despite the overwhelming majority saying they would like to.

‘A fraction of the young people we heard from feel they are listened to by decision-makers. This is troubling, for their concerns came through loud and clear. Second only to unaffordable housing, young people in the countryside said isolation and loneliness was their biggest concern. The shameful inequities of rural life mean young people growing up today struggle simply to meet up with their friends – in person or online – because public transport and broadband in the countryside has been treated as an afterthought for too long.

‘We must do better. To really level up the countryside the government must, at a bare minimum, guarantee hourly flat fare bus services running from morning to midnight, seven days a week, for our rural towns and villages. We must ensure that everyone has access to reliable, affordable and convenient public transport.

‘And in the forthcoming Spending Review, we’re calling on the government to allocate £12.8 billion of funding a year to tackle the housing crisis, with a fair proportion allocated to rural areas to deliver genuinely affordable and well-designed homes for rural communities.’

After housing, poor quality public transport and feelings of loneliness and isolation were the next two biggest issues for young people in the countryside. Other key stats include:

  • Two-thirds (66%) were concerned about infrequent and unreliable public transport;
  • More than three quarters (76%) of those planning to leave said poor digital connectivity – meaning broadband as well as patchy mobile phone coverage – had influenced their desire to move;
  • Fewer than a quarter (23%) of young people surveyed wanted to go into the workplace full time, suggesting broadband will become increasingly important for the rural economy as flexible working becomes more common.

In a rallying call to politicians, Freya Davies said:

‘Don’t forget us! It’s definitely about trying to bring us back up, to level us up with urban areas. Some people prefer living in cities, it’s a different way of life, but I don’t think that living in rural areas in the countryside should come with being disconnected and being left behind. I don’t think that’s fair.’

Notes to editors

About the survey
In this survey, commissioned by CPRE, the countryside charity, and undertaken independently by YouGov, we conducted an online poll of 1,019 16 to 25-year-olds living in ‘rural’ and ‘town and fringe’ areas in England. All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Fieldwork was undertaken between 16 and 24 June 2021. The survey was carried out online.

About the case studies
The case studies in this report were gathered independently by CPRE, the countryside charity, during September 2021. The young people who feature in the case studies were contacted using CPRE’s own networks and through a separate survey that was shared publicly by CPRE in August 2021. This survey asked young people on their views of living in a rural area and for them to share their contact details should they be interested in sharing their story.

About the social housing waiting list figures
Analysis of social housing waiting lists in predominantly local authorities was carried out independently by CPRE, the countryside charity using government live tables. Analysis was carried out on the data for 2019-2020, the latest year for which figures are available, and compared to figures for the previous year 2018-2019.

About YouGov
YouGov is an international research data and analytics group. With a proprietary panel of over 11 million registered members globally and operations in the UK, Americas, Mainland Europe, Middle East, India and Asia Pacific, YouGov has one of the world’s largest research networks. Our mission is to supply a continuous stream of accurate data and insight into what the world thinks so that companies, governments and institutions can better serve the people and communities that sustain them.

For further information, case studies or to interview a spokesperson, please contact: Sam Relph, CPRE Media Officer, 020 7981 2827 / 07982 805759