Supporting people in rural areas has long been a challenge for employment support services because of distance, poor transport links, low population density and a range of connectivity issues.
Perhaps the most typical story is of someone who is offered a job but cannot take it, because they do not drive and the first of two expensive buses needed to reach work departs two hours after their 7am start time.
Reed in Partnership has supported jobseekers in some of the most rural locations in the UK - from the Southern part of Northern Ireland to Northumberland, Shropshire, and Cornwall.
Our new research aims to secure a better understanding of which rural areas are facing the most challenging labour market difficulties. Our report brings together insights from frontline staff and stakeholders working in very different rural places on the challenges and solutions for rural jobseekers.
Our key findings include:
- Rural areas of most concern are all places that had labour market difficulties predating the pandemic, including Tendring in Essex, East Lindsey on the Lincolnshire coat, the Isle of Wight and Swale in Kent.
- Some rural places like the Lake District and Derbyshire Dales have seen high use of the furlough scheme, particularly to support businesses in the visitor economy, but in most of these areas the proportion of people claiming unemployment benefits is currently quite low. A careful transition with appropriate support is needed to help these areas as the furlough scheme is withdrawn.
- There is a gendered aspect to both the furlough and claimant count statistics, with women more likely to have been furloughed in almost all rural areas.
- Rural transport is by far the biggest barrier for jobseekers as they seek to get to interviews, support services, training or further education. This is most severe for low-earners who face other sources of disadvantage. The cost of travel and timetable clashes present the biggest challenges.
- Digital exclusion is a significant barrier for jobseekers in rural areas, with access to devices, data and broadband limited their access to online support and opportunities.
The narrower choice of jobs in rural areas is a big issue for building back rural economies better, as well as supporting lower-skills jobseekers to gain the skills to progress.
Our report provides detail on the context of these rural areas, drawing on labour market information, local demographic data and research directly from Reed in Partnership's employment support services, including common barriers to employment and jobseekers' own stories.
We present five key ideas to support rural jobseekers as we come out of lockdown.
We want to support local partners, including councils, transport planners, and employers, to find solutions that support rural jobs recovery.
There is already lots of good work happening nationally and locally, such as rural mobility funding projects, and we want to seize this opportunity to call on more employers to be proactive and innovative to support jobseekers and employees.
You can read our full report here.