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Esperanza Vera-Toscano [1], Mark Shucksmith [2] and David Brown [3]

[1] Melbourne University

[2] Newcastle University

[3] Cornell University

Topic: The Dynamics of Low Income in Rural Britain 1991-2008: analysis of the BHPS.


This paper analyses the dynamics of low income in rural Britain between 1991-2008 by comparing a rural sample with a non-rural sample using the British Household Panel Survey of around 7,000 households who were surveyed each year during this period. In the most general sense, we seek to examine rural and urban income distributions and inequality. More specifically, we focus on low income mobility, the distribution of low income spells, the characteristics of those on low incomes and possible trigger events associated with low income entry and exit across the rural and urban samples. We also consider the impact of policy changes during this period, notably the election of the ‘new Labour’ government in 1997 and their social policy reforms which are shown to have led to substantial decreases in poverty.  The results reveal that both rural and urban poverty fell from 1999 when Labour began to introduce their spending programme and reforms: comparing 1991-99 with 2000-08, rural poverty fell from 17% to 13% while urban poverty fell from 19% to 16%. Notwithstanding that rural poverty was slightly lower than urban, 50% of households in rural Britain experienced at least one spell of low income during this 18 year period (compared with 56% of urban households). This reveals that rural poverty is not a minority experience (“pockets of rural poverty”) but that half the population of rural Britain was at risk of poverty over this period. The analysis examines how the composition and incidence of poverty changed during that period, with reductions in poverty in old age and in child poverty, for example, and assesses the role of different policy measures. The paper also reveals a number of important dynamic aspects of the rural low income problem, such as the greater persistence of low pay in rural areas and the growing importance of poverty in work and in self-employment.

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