At the National Policy Forum on 19 July, Ed Miliband announced that Labour would develop and launch a 'Non-Urban' Manifesto for the 2015 General Election. This presents Labour with a tremendous opportunity to lay out a progressive vision of a non-urban Britain that is prosperous, fair and vibrant. In order to succeed, this manifesto must focus on young people.
Up and down the UK, there is an exodus of young people from rural and coastal areas, who – starved of opportunities, services and employment – do what they can to move to the city. Those that are unable to escape often find themselves stuck in the trap of low pay or underemployment and are therefore priced out of the local housing market. As a result, numerous non-urban communities are facing an unsustainable future as the local demography becomes ever older and young people either leave or stagnate.
This situation can only be reversed if a Labour government utilises a broad strategy. Low pay and underemployment are serious problems in rural and coastal regions, especially for young people. To some extent, this is due to the difficulties facing rural and coastal small and medium-sized enterprises, which provide the bulk of jobs in these areas. The ability to create these enterprises and for them to grow strong enough to provide a living wage and full-time employment is connected to the quality of life within each community. A business in an area that lacks shops, pubs, post offices, affordable accommodation, health services, schools and training, broadband and connectivity to other areas incurs greater costs, struggles to attract customers and finds it harder to employ well-trained young people.
There is a clear need for significant amounts of new housing in rural and coastal regions, particularly to allow young people to stay in areas close to their families. Labour has already pledged a massive house-building programme. While any building in non-urban areas must consider the greenbelt, community character and social infrastructure, new housing aimed at young people and families (ie. affordable, rental and social accommodation) has the potential to contribute to communities by providing additional users for facilities such as schools, village shops, community facilities and bus services, rendering them more sustainable.
Non-Urban transport is a significant issue. Full-time employment or training opportunities, often located in larger local towns or even as far afield as a provincial city, often requires people to be present at times not covered by public transport. This situation is even worse among certain non-urban industries, such as agriculture and horticulture, which are naturally situated in the most isolated places. For these industries, young people who are unable to reach their place of work are difficult to employ, even on a temporary contract. And so, a Labour government needs to allow greater local flexibility and funding for local government to make public transport serve the public.
By boosting services, accessibility, local businesses and housing, Labour can make non-urban areas places of opportunity and potential for young people – allowing them to stay in their communities if they want to and in turn enabling these communities to prosper and flourish.