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Social Exclusion in Rural Areas: A Literature Review and Conceptual Framework - Research Findings

DescriptionA summary of a research report reviewing literature on social exclusion in rural Scotland and rural Britain, and the development of a framework for analysis of social exclusion.
ISBN0 7480 9394 X
Official Print Publication Date
Website Publication DateJune 20, 2000
Agricultural Policy Coordination and Rural Development Research Programme Research Findings No 6Social Exclusion In Rural Areas: A Literature review and Conceptual Framework

Mark Shucksmith with Lorna Philip Arkleton Centre for Rural Development Research University of Aberdeen

This study was commissioned to help the Scottish Executive develop a better understanding of processes of social exclusion in rural areas. It assesses current knowledge of social exclusion in rural areas and puts forward a conceptual framework for exploring exclusion further.

Main Findings

  • Social exclusion is as much a problem for rural communities as it is for urban areas (whose problems receive more attention), affecting substantial minorities in both.
  • Differences between processes of exclusion in rural and urban contexts arise from a variety of historical and contextual factors. These lead also to considerable diversity within rural Scotland, such as variations between accessible commuting areas, tourist and retirement areas, industrial rural areas, and areas of population decline.
  • Pathways in and out of exclusion in rural areas have less in common with urban areas than expected. In addition to loss of job, marital breakdown and other changes in family composition (the typical triggers in urban areas), people in rural areas are also affected by persistent low pay leading to low pensions, poverty in self-employment, and the lack of solidarity and greater visibility of exclusion in small, mixed communities.
  • Other specifically rural factors affecting exclusion include the neglect of social exclusion in rural areas by both policy makers and the public; a lack of social housing; car dependency and inadequate public transport; small workplaces associated with low pay and restricted careers; lack of unionisation or collective action of excluded groups; and strong personal networks.

Background

There are many differences in the social, economic, and cultural features of rural areas, as well as the physical difference in accessibility and peripherality, that are likely to influence the process of social exclusion in rural areas. As yet, however, we do not have a detailed understanding of both the operation and experience of social exclusion in rural areas, and how this differs from exclusion in an urban context. The Scottish Office commissioned this research thinkpiece as a preliminary stage in working towards an improved understanding of rural social exclusion.

The research was a desk-study, drawing on existing literature and research findings, conducted between February and May 1999. It focuses specifically on:

  • the differences that arise between rural and urban areas in the operation and experience of social exclusion
  • the differences in processes causing social exclusion in rural and urban areas
  • specifically rural factors triggering entry into exclusion or assisting integration
  • the impact of social exclusion on different groups and in different locations in rural Scotland.

Rural Social Exclusion

Social exclusion is as much a problem for rural communities as it is for the urban people whose problems receive more attention. It affects a substantial minority, with one in three people in rural Britain experiencing low income at some time during 1991-96, for example.

Exclusion is related to social class, gender and age. The principal groups affected are elderly people, those in low-paid work, young people, women, the self-employed, and those detached from labour markets for one reason or another. The forces which lie behind exclusion and inclusion affect different people in different communities, rural or urban, in a variety of ways according to the local context. It is apparent that people experiencing similar problems, such as low income are not spatially segregated in rural areas, unlike their urban counterparts.

Differences between processes of exclusion in rural and urban contexts arise from industrial and political legacies, the sparsity of population and spatial peripherality of rural areas, and rural areas' social heterogeneity as well as our 'social construction' of rurality itself. These impact variably across rural Scotland, leading to considerable diversity between accessible commuting areas, tourist and retirement areas, industrial rural areas, and areas of population and employment decline.

Pathways in and out of exclusion in rural areas have less in common with urban areas than expected. In addition to the typical triggers of exclusion in urban areas of job loss, marital breakdown and other changes in family composition, people in rural areas are also affected by: persistent low pay leading to low pensions, poverty in self-employment, lack of solidarity and the greater visibility of exclusion in small communities.

Other specifically rural factors affecting exclusion include: a lack of social housing; car dependency and inadequate public transport; small workplaces associated with low pay and restricted careers; lack of unionisation or collective action of excluded groups; and strong personal networks (which may be important both in finding a job or in labelling people as undesirable) as well as the neglect of social exclusion in rural areas by policy makers and the public.

Rural people have spoken consistently about a huge gap between people and policy makers. Obstacles to participation in political processes include cost, lack of information, social class, and feelings of inadequacy (deference) or 'inauthenticity' (for incomers).

The powerful myth of a rural idyll, in which 'rural' and 'exclusion' are often seen as a contradiction in terms, combined with the lack of solidarity and the greater visibility of exclusion in small communities, often means that poor people in rural areas unwittingly conspire with the more affluent to hide their poverty and deny its existence. For example, benefit take-up is lower in rural areas than might be expected given the low incomes.

Community development initiatives have tended to neglect the distinction between 'communities of interest' and 'communities of place' which is so important in rural areas. Consequently, area-based attempts at community development in rural areas have tended to reinforce rather than relieve social exclusion by redistributing power to the already powerful who tend to dominate local initiatives.

A Conceptual Framework

A conceptual framework for viewing social exclusion is proposed, based on the way in which resources, services and information are allocated in society through four main systems:

  • Private - market processes (eg. payment for work);
  • Public - through transfer payments and services provided by the state;
  • Voluntary - through collective action organised through voluntary bodies or NGOs; and
  • Family and friends - through reciprocal, cultural and other non-market processes associated with networks of family and friends.

An individual's sense of belonging in society depends on all these systems, and not merely on integration through one sphere such as employment.

Private systems

While formal unemployment may be lower in rural areas than in urban ones, many are unofficially detached from the labour market, either because of family care responsibilities or because of age and limited opportunities. In addition, the lack of childcare facilities and training provision hinder many people's ability to work. The choice of jobs is restricted, partly by distance and partly by the predominance of small firms in rural economies. While increasingly formal qualifications are viewed as essential to success, career progression requires outmigration, so that young people are 'educated out' of rural areas.

The relative importance of the private market in allocating houses (and a concomitant lack of social housing) is a key difference between rural and urban Scotland, and is widely identified as the most important issue facing rural communities.

Public systems

Those without the financial means to find housing through private markets must rely on the state to structure their housing opportunities. Because of the dearth of social housing in rural areas, non-urgent needs are less likely to be met than in urban areas, and may lead to outmigration.

Access to public services and the level of service provision are of particular importance to rural areas. The sparsity of population leads to their provision at greater distances than in urban areas, so increasing the chances of exclusion of the less mobile, notably women, children, elderly and disabled people.

Voluntary systems

Local traditions of mutual aid, self-help organisations and other community resources have been regarded as strong in rural communities, and may compensate for exclusion from other networks. However, with the growing influence of urban society and as female paid employment has increased, fewer volunteers are available just as the state has placed more responsibilities on the voluntary sector to work in public-private partnerships. Finding volunteers can be a particular problem in small communities, and any shortage would further disadvantage client groups.

Cultural systems

Friendship and kinship support are important for individuals during difficult times, but it has been suggested that mobility restrictions, distances and falling birth rates may make it hard to maintain these networks in rural areas. Demographic change also impacts upon networks of families and friends, with elderly people particularly affected. Retirement migrants frequently do not have extensive networks of friends and family nearby, and as their mobility decreases they may experience acute social isolation. Even young incomers may be isolated from local networks, as well as distant from the support of grandparents for childcare. The outmigration of young locals in search of jobs and affordable housing may leave indigenous older relatives isolated and without support.

If you wish a copy of 'Social Exclusion in Rural Areas: A Literature Review and Conceptual Framework', the report which is summarised in this Research Findings, please send a cheque for £10.00 made payable to The Stationery Office to:

If you wish further copies of this Research Findings or have any enquiries about the work of CRU, please contact us at:

Scottish Executive Central Research Unit, 2J, Victoria Quay, Edinburgh EH6 6QQ
Tel: 0131-244 7560, or Email: cru.admin@scotland.gov.uk
Website: www.scotland.gov.uk/cru

This document (and other CRU Research Findings and Reports) and information about the work of CRU may be viewed on the Internet at

http://www.scotland.gov.uk/cru/ .

The site carries up-to-date information about social and policy research commissioned and published by CRU on behalf of the Scottish Executive. Subjects covered include transport, housing, social inclusion, rural affairs, children and young people, education, social work, community care, local government, civil justice, crime and criminal justice, regeneration, planning and womens issues. The site also allows access to information about the Scottish Household Survey.