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Fighting social exclusion in rural areas

[ Summary ]


Chapter 1:
Social exclusion, a multidimensional phenomenon


Over the past decade, poverty and social exclusion have been growing at an alarming rate in urban and rural areas in a large number of countries of the European Union. The trend is to a great extent the result of increased unemployment, but unemployment, poverty and exclusion are not necessarily directly linked. For this reason, a closer look at the interlinking mechanisms is necessary.

Chapter one will therefore attempt to highlight the relationship that exists between unemployment, poverty and social exclusion and to determine the characteristics of this phenomenon in the European Union today, and in rural areas in particular.

In this respect, it is worth noting that social exclusion in rural areas is a problem that is relatively little known and seldom studied. More widespread and less visible in the countryside, social exclusion tends to be perceived as an essentially urban phenomenon. Yet, it is a reality that also affects rural areas. Often these areas are faced with the difficult task of restructuring agriculture, lack jobs and have high unemployment. There is a growing trend to cut back on welfare services, isolation is on the rise and there is no place for people to meet and participate in social activities. What is more, housing for new families is in short supply.

Thus, for example, Englandís Rural Development Programme (2000- 2006) shows that:

  • a high proportion of parishes are lacking key services. Since 1991, the supply of services does not appear to be declining, except postal services. However, some services are sorely wanting: 70% of the parishes no longer have a general store and 75% no longer have a weekly bus service, for example [2];

  • it is more difficult to come up with statistics on social exclusion problems in rural areas because of the presence of well- off families and disadvantaged families in the same area;

  • low wages and the growing number of pensioners moving to the countryside are the main causes of poverty in rural areas. However, poverty is not a phenomenon of remote areas; it is also present in wealthier and more accessible areas;

  • a survey [3] of 5 000 households indicated that 30% of the people in rural areas had experienced poverty in the past ten years compared with 40% in urban areas. Other studies done in 1979 [4] and 1990 [5] revealed that 25% of Britainís rural households were living in a state of poverty or near poverty;

  • farmers have the highest suicide rate of all professions, an indication of the high level of stress affecting this social group. Given the isolation of farmers, the suicide rate can also be perceived as an indicator of social exclusion in the countryside.


[2] Rural Development Commission, Survey
of Rural Services 1997.

[3] P. Chapman et al (1998), Poverty and
exclusion in rural Britain , Joseph Rowntree
Foundation, McLaughlin & Bradley (1980).

[4] idem.

[5] P. Cloke et al (1994), Lifestyles in
rural England, Rural Development Commission.

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