Conference will consider high cost of island living
A conference will this week examine the findings of a report which highlighted the gap in living expenses between rural and urban areas.
Delegates will gather in the Islesburgh Community Centre on Thursday to learn more of the findings surrounding the Minimum Income Standards Report, which was released earlier this year.
Head of planning and partnerships at Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Alastair Nicolson, led the group behind the research.
The findings showed people living in rural communities need to earn up to 40 per cent more to achieve the same living standards as those in built-up areas.
They also highlighted minimum weekly budget requirements – excluding rent and childcare costs – of £198 for a single person living in a UK urban area. The same person living in the most remote part of Shetland would, in comparison, need £345. Even a single person staying in Lerwick would have to typically pay £264.
The trend is the same for a couple with two children. A family living in a built up area in mainland UK would have to pay £463, the study found, while their Lerwick counterparts would be paying £597 for the same standard of living. Those in the farthest-flung places in Shetland would be left £769 out of pocket.
A pensioner couple, meanwhile, would pay £334 a week in a remote part of the isles – almost £100 more than a retired couple staying in a UK urban area.
Mr Nicolson said: “People choose to live in remote, rural locations for many different reasons, in particular a higher quality of life.
“The benefits of this can sometimes counteract the higher costs but we are keen to see what else we can do to make living in these areas more sustainable and attractive.”
Opening the conference will be Shetland Islands Council’s political leader, Gary Robinson. He said the research had been worthwhile.
“This is an extremely useful and robust piece of research, providing real evidence to support a number of issues we’re facing in Shetland, such as high fuel bills, travel costs and delivery charges.
“The council, with our partners, will be using the research in a number of different areas, including how Shetland is allocated funding.”
The SIC’s policy manager, Emma Perring, represented Shetland on the research steering group.
She added: “The Minimum Income Standard is an excellent tool to be able to understand the costs of achieving a good quality of life.
“We have been working for a number of years to obtain this information for Shetland and the results provide us with plenty of opportunities to target our work, to be able to assist different households to reduce their costs of living.”
Factors driving additional costs for households in the isles include:
• Higher supermarket prices
• Longer commuting distances, compounded by higher petrol/diesel prices.
• Higher heating costs, driven by a lack of access to mains gas and the harsher climate.
• The additional cost of occasional trips to the mainland.
• Delivery charges for goods ordered from elsewhere.
• For pensioners, additional costs of buying clothes or other goods through catalogues (the calculations assumed pensioners do not necessarily have the internet which can provide on-line deals).
Smaller, more remote areas in the isles could also be saddled with:
• Additional ferry costs for inter-island travel.
• The additional cost of buying groceries in more expensive, local stores.
• Higher heating bills associated, in some cases, with older housing.
The Minimum Income Standard is a nationally-recognised programme of research, carried out by the Centre for Research in Social Policy at Loughborough University.