Poverty is growing worse in the countryside, a hard-hitting report on rural life has warned.
Shropshire is highlighted as an area which is particularly suffering, in the latest study of challenges facing rural communities by the Commission for Rural Communities.
Problems facing the shires include rising house prices and a lack of access to essential services.
And the proportion of rural residents living in poverty rose from 16 per cent to 19 per cent between 2004-5 and 2006-7.
This rise is higher than the increase in poverty in towns and cities.
The Commission was established by the Government in 2005 as the official “advocate” to the Government on rural matters, providing advice to ministers.
In its annual “State of the Countryside” report, the Commission called on the Government to do more to resolve inequalities.
It also highlighted some positive changes over the last 12 months, including increases in self–employment, the growth in knowledge-based industry and improved access to broadband across the area.
Shropshire MP Dan Kawczynski (Con Shrewsbury) said rural poverty had been neglected by the Government.
He said: “They don’t give two figs about rural poverty because they don’t give two figs about rural areas at all.
“All the Government is concerned with is marginal inner city seats, because their strategy is based around the 50 or 60 marginal seats which will decide who forms the Government after the next election.”
Stuart Burgess, the Commission’s chairman, said: “The West Midlands faces some unique challenges, with South Shropshire suffering from the lowest average weekly wage of any rural or urban district - just £251.20. Migration of people from big cities like Coventry and Birmingham to more rural areas such as Warwick and Bromsgrove is also in the top 5 highest in the UK.”
He added: “Meeting affordable housing needs in rural areas also remains a dominant challenge, with demand being heightened by the number of people seeking to relocate to the countryside.
“The average house price in the area was £245,894 compared with £212,823 in built-up areas, and prices have soared to eight times the annual salary. This has to be addressed and addressed quickly.” One in five rural families in the West Midlands now live in poverty, the Commission said.
But there had been positive changes as well, Dr Burgess added.
“Rural areas generally enjoy healthier lifestyles and a better quality of life, not to mention lower incidences of crime.
“Other inherent strengths include a higher rate of business start-ups and an overall growth in the number of businesses compared to a net decline in the urban business base.
“Between 1998 and 2007, the West Midlands has seen an increase of 59,245 people working in knowledge-based industries.
“The value of agricultural land rose sharply during 2007, mainly due to increases in the prices of agricultural commodities and to high demand for land for ‘lifestyle’ rural properties. There are also signs of a renewed sense of optimism amongst farmers, but these trends could increase pressures on environmental quality once more.”