England's Rural Population is Ageing Faster
The number of older people living in the English countryside is soaring at a much faster rate than the rest of the country, posing numerous urgent challenges to the Government and other bodies.
Researchers from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne and other leading experts will highlight the statistics and issues they provoke at a conference in York today, Tuesday April 4.
Figures show that 5.3m of England's projected 5.5m population growth in the period until 2028 will be due to the rise in the over-60s, who will mainly be living in rural districts. Numbers of people living in the countryside aged 85 and over are predicted to treble in this period.
Remote rural areas in particular are expected to have a 47 per cent increase in the number of residents aged over 50 years old by 2028. This is compared with a 30 per cent projected increase of this age group on a national scale.
Some rural districts - including Berwick-upon-Tweed, West Somerset, North Norfolk, East Lindsey, West Dorset and South Lakeland - are set to have three out of five of their residents aged over 50 by 2028.
Already in the English countryside, two-fifths of residents are aged over 50 years old, one-quarter is over 60 and one in 12 is over 75. The average age of the rural population is 42, compared with 36 for urban dwellers.
The ageing population is largely a result of younger people moving out of the countryside for education/work and affordable housing, and older people moving into rural areas at or before retirement age. The largest rural population gains are of people in their 30s or 40s and their children - and while the children often move away when they grow up, their parents remain.
The Newcastle University experts say the changing countryside demographics provoke numerous issues which should urgently be addressed by central and local Government and other relevant bodies.
These include rural housing, which researchers say is inadequate to serve the ageing population, and commercial and public services, which should be adapted to serve a potentially less mobile population. Rural areas should also do more to attract young people, say researchers, and migrant workers could also be encouraged to settle in the countryside to address existing difficulties with recruiting and retaining staff.
Professor Philip Lowe, of Newcastle University, who will co-present an overview of the 'greying countryside' at the seminar, commented: "It's ageist and misleading to say that the older population presents a threat and a burden to our society. Most people continue to live active lives and contribute in many ways to their community before and after retirement.
"However, there are key challenges posed by the ageing rural population, which, if addressed, should enrich life in the countryside for everybody, not just for older people."
Professor Neil Ward, director of Newcastle University's Centre for Rural Economy, which organised the event, added: "The ageing population also presents many opportunities for the countryside. For example, many people over 50 are highly skilled and either run businesses or are highly active in local communities.
"Ageing communities are likely to become increasingly reliant on services staffed by volunteers, such as community transport, local conservation work, neighbourhood support and running village halls. This suggests that we should be looking at how we can increase the number of volunteers and ensure their commitment - perhaps through a more professional and systematic way of recruiting them."