Somerset Rural Life revealed

The latest health and wellbeing report shows just under half of Somerset’s population live in the countryside, people in villages can expect to live more than two years longer than those in towns and most of Somerset is likely to have at least 25% of the population over 65 by 2033.

These are just some of the key findings in the latest snap-shot of health and wellbeing in Somerset, the Joint Strategic Needs Assessment (JSNA), published online today.

The report shows that the county as a whole is getting older with a neighbourhood, near Minehead, expected to have more than half of its population over 65 this year.

The JSNA, produced by Somerset County Council and other partners collects together information from a wide range of sources to highlight important trends and changes in housing, transport, community safety, care, employment and other issues that affect the health and wellbeing of the Somerset population.

This year’s summary document, “Somerset: Our County 2014/2015” has a particular focus on our rural life and differences concerning health, wellbeing and social care for people living in the countryside.

It looks at the assets the county is fortunate to have and considers longer term issues and strategic priorities within a rural context.

The investigation of rural life has identified a generally very positive picture of health and wellbeing in the Somerset countryside, including:

• Widespread appreciation amongst young and old of the quality of the rural environment, and a desire for it to be protected.
• Better health outcomes, with over two years’ higher life expectancy in villages than urban areas.
• Healthier lifestyles and higher incomes amongst the resident rural population.

Some areas of concern were identified, including:

• Evidence of greater social isolation for older care users, especially women. This may well be associated with a lack of access to cars, and may explain the higher emergency hospital admission rates for rural elderly on a ‘just in case’ basis.
• The effects of distance from services, and the time and expense in travelling.
• Digital isolation – very strongly felt by young people, but by no means exclusively so – illustrating the social and wellbeing aspect of Connecting Devon and Somerset.
• Access to rural housing was a concern for younger people, but strong feelings against further housing development were expressed by a wide range of people.

Trudi Grant, Director of Public Health said: “Whilst increased life expectancy in Somerset compared to the national average is clearly a good thing, the changes in population structure pose challenges for the whole county. We need to bear these changes in mind in all our decisions on housing, the economy and how we provide services.”

Ann Bown, Chair of the Somerset Health and Wellbeing Board at Somerset County Council said: “This report reveals a positive picture of life in rural areas but also shows how important housing and digital access is for young people and the importance of social contact for older people.”

Nik Harwood, Director of the Somerset Rural Youth Project said: “Our focus groups with young people across the county found that they wanted to stay here but problems of finding work and affordable housing makes it very difficult.”

Detailed information and data is available at http://www.somersetintelligence.org.uk
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For further information, please contact the Press Office on 01823 355020 or email pressoffice@somerset.gov.uk

Notes to editors:

Somerset rural facts:

• 48% of Somerset’s population is classified as rural, the 9th highest county in England

• 1 in 5 women aged 65 and over living in rural areas have no access to a car or van

• 16-34 year-olds comprise 24% of urban residents but only 16% of the rural population

• Somerset house prices are 30% higher in rural villages than in urban areas

• Nationally, the rate of households homeless and in priority need is twice as high in urban areas as in rural areas

• Urban social care service users are almost twice as likely to say they “are able to spend their time as they like” as those in rural villages (27% and 15%, respectively)

• Somerset currently has 18 Village Agents helping residents of one in three of the county’s parishes

• Mean domestic electricity consumption per meter is 46% higher in rural villages than in urban areas

• 26,730 Somerset households are in fuel poverty, and the number is growing

• Crime rates in rural villages are less than half those in urban areas, but are falling less sharply

• Residents of the most rural parts of Somerset have higher educational qualifications than those in urban areas (Level 4 or above: 33% v 22%)

• 66% of pupils living in rural villages achieved at least 5 GCSEs A*-C (including Maths and English) compared with 54% of those in urban areas

• 1 in 3 people in Somerset’s rural hamlets are self-employed, over twice the national average

• Emergency hospital admissions for those aged 75 or more are higher in rural areas than urban areas

• Obesity and drug or alcohol-related hospital admissions in Somerset are relatively low in rural areas
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