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Rural communities face pivotal time of change as 'Triple challenge' impacts take effect

Published: 12 April 2022

A new report published by Public Health Wales highlights how the combined influences of Brexit, Coronavirus and climate change will potentially see rural communities in Wales experience a time of great change, with both opportunities and negative impacts to navigate.

Rural communities are impacted by the ‘Triple Challenge’ in a myriad of ways, details the paper, some of which are the same for urban communities, but others are more specific to them such as housing age, availability, quality and affordability, transport and active travel infrastructure. Rural communities have older populations and high levels of agribusinesses. These factors need careful consideration when drafting national, regional and local policies and plans in order reduce health and well-being inequities. 

Liz Green, Consultant in Public Health, Policy and International Health at Public Health Wales, said:

“Rural environments and communities have become much more attractive to live and work in during the pandemic period, mainly due to the increased focus on home working that promotes a more flexible approach for workers and their families. This could have both positive and negative impacts, for example, it could enable some rural communities and their economies to thrive and facilitate an increase in sustainable services and facilities, but it could also lead to housing price increases that disadvantage those who currently live in, or were brought up, in an area or shortages of affordable housing for the local populations. 

“We also identified that digital infrastructure and accessibility are very important for rural communities, but there needs to be a focus on enabling digital and social media use by increasing digital literacy, particularly in the elderly population.” 

The paper identifies why rural health, well-being and equity is so important in Wales: 

  • In total, 4.1 per cent of employment in Wales is in the agricultural sector (National Assembly for Wales, 2017).  
  • Up to 28 per cent of people in Welsh rural communities work in the agricultural industry (Farmers’ Union of Wales, 2018). 
  • It is estimated that EU subsidies make up to 80 per cent of farm income in Wales.  
  • In 2019, the agriculture, forestry and fishing industries made up 1 per cent of all industries in Wales, contributing a total of £660 million to the economy (Statistics for Wales, 2021). 
  • In 2019, 25.4 per cent of residents in rural counties were aged 65 or over, an increase from 19.6 per cent in 2000. In comparison, 18.9% of residents in urban counties were aged 65 or over in 2019 

This paper is one of a series of short reports which aim to provide a high-level, strategic overview of the complex interactions between Brexit, Coronavirus and climate change and key determinants of health, wellbeing and equity. Using a range of evidence, each paper focuses on a key determinant of health or specific population group and aims to support strategic and organisational stakeholders to better understand the Triple Challenge facing Wales both now, and in the future. It provides decision and policy makers, organisations and communities with suggestions about how these impacts could be addressed and identifies the potential actions that they can take.  

This Spotlight Paper focuses on the issues that Rural communities may face now and in the future and how this may impact health and well-being in the context of the Triple Challenge in Wales. 

The paper seeks to address a gap in existing evidence which shows rural health and well-being as the main focus and identifies a need for further research to support the development of rural health policies and programme development.