Experts by Experience Response: Impact of cost of living on rural communities

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In this blog, we report on work carried out by a group of the Experts by Experience Panel, who came together to produce a submission to a call for evidence as part of an UK Parliament Committee inquiry.

In mid-December 2022, the Scottish Affairs Committee launched an inquiry to explore rising costs and the impact of the cost of living on rural communities across Scotland. A member of the Experts by Experience Panel noted this call and said they wanted to submit a response. A working group came together and a submission was made on behalf of the Experts by Experience Panel. 

Cost of living challenges facing Scottish rural communities

In the submission the Panel members noted serious concerns with the costs faced by communities living in Scottish rural areas. This included the availability of low cost and affordable food. A member of the working group carried out research which showed that 10 common household goods in their local store were £7.05 more expensive than in a supermarket that was 5 miles away. Limited choice was also an issue in household goods and clothes, as well as fresh and healthy food options.

The working group also noted their concerns about the costs of heating and fuel, with risks of extreme fuel poverty for rural households. This included for those using off-grid fuel. Working group members noted schemes to help with off-grid fuel poverty were insufficient, delayed or inaccessible. They also said eligibility criteria had changed for some schemes, adversely impacting vulnerable groups, such as disabled households.

“Living in rural area, we can’t access work easily. You can’t get to workplaces on a single [bus ticket] before 9am. You can’t get to an affordable supermarket, so spend more … We are not alone where I live. This is a massive problem in Scotland outside the cities.”

As well as costs, there was also concern about the infrastructure in rural areas, including issues with travel, rural housing and digital connectivity, with further challenges around accessible facilities.

The working group also had concerns related to other areas such as health and social care, pressure on unpaid carers and the measurement tools used to assess poverty, which sometimes mean that poverty in rural areas can be hidden as it is more dispersed than is the case in towns and cities. The working group also contributed a section focused on the specific challenges faced by island communities in Scotland.

“Being disabled and experiencing poverty poses many additional, hidden challenges. It’s exhausting trying to navigate them all.”

Views on UK Government cost of living support

The working group, whilst appreciating a cash-first approach, felt the level of support was insufficient to tackle the deep challenges of poverty in rural areas, including the support provided to deal with the energy crisis. They also felt that more could be done for island and remote rural communities in terms of affordable travel, online delivery costs and sustainable food production. Panel members also noted a need for greater investment in infrastructure, including transport and digital connectivity, to benefit rural areas.

Tailoring of support to rural areas

The working group made a number of suggestions, including a rural subsidy, increased investment and subsidised public transport and increased off-grid fuel support. They also noted the importance of listening to the experiences of people when measuring poverty. Members also thought that the package of support for unpaid carers needs to be increased, due to the hidden costs of caring and to support physical and mental health, and gave examples of a number of practical suggestions that could assist.

Further steps the UK Government could take to support rural communities

The working group noted the importance of the UK Government having accessible and clear communication to increase uptake of key benefits, to ensure that households are receiving all the benefits that they are entitled to. This includes recognising the ‘passport effect’ that entitlement of one benefit can give to other support, including help with the cost of living.


The working group highlighted:

  • Serious concerns about the impact that the cost of living is having on rural communities living in poverty.
  • Challenges with rural infrastructure and lack of accessible facilities worsening existing disadvantage and hidden poverty.
  • A range of additional concerns related to social and health care, including pressure on groups such as unpaid carers and disabled households; the measures of deprivation used missing hidden elements of poverty; and the challenges faced by island communities.

The working group noted potential solutions, including:

  • A rural premium/subsidy added to social security assistance. This includes increased and timely support for those using alternative fuels during an ongoing energy crisis.
  • Rural communities to be prioritised in infrastructure investment including digital connectivity. 
  • Measurement tools used that need to account for the experiences of people living in poverty in rural areas.

  • Timely and accessible public communications to improve benefit take up needs to be prioritised.
How the submission was prepared

An invitation for volunteers was sent to our Experts by Experience Panel members, with three volunteers agreeing they would like to be involved in a short working group to prepare a response.

The group met initially to review the UK Committee’s call for evidence and identify the areas they wanted to prioritise responding to. Members of the working group then engaged with their networks to get a wider view from people living in rural and island communities on the issues involved. With the support of the Commission’s secretariat staff, a response was drafted that the working group met to discuss, amend, and agree upon in time for submission in early February 2023.

You can read the full submission by the Experts by Experience Panel working group here

If you would like to know more about this work or the Experts by Experience Panel, please contact Munwar Hussain, Senior Participation Officer on

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