In Suffolk we are 720,000 people occupying 3800 square kilometres. Which makes us very different from the inner city. If you spread all the people in Suffolk evenly across the county you might all be within shouting distance of each other, if you shouted very hard. In Hackney you’d only have to whisper!
In Suffolk, 4 out of 10 of us live in a small rural town, in a village or out in the countryside. A lot of us are rich, 95% of us are white, a third of us are aged 50 or over. And of that third, most of us are classified by the ACORN ranking system as ‘Affluent greys’.
So, bully for us, eh?
However 10% of the people in Suffolk are classified by the same ranking as “hard- pressed”. And the bulk of these are struggling families.
Although we hear a lot about inner-city poverty, I think we all know that being hard-pressed and living in the countryside has some special problems.
Transport is one. In Suffolk we most of our little local rail stations years back, and recent dominance of car ownership has left many rural areas with few or no buses – and the remaining public transport is both expensive, non-integrated and generally unavailable in the evenings on Sundays and on public holidays. Grim for the carless if you want to take a trip out; horribly distressing in an emergency
Lets face it, unless you can afford taxis or have lots of helpful friends and relatives there are huge difficulties for countryfolk if you can’t drive, are disabled from driving or can’t afford a car. Huge difficulties getting to health appointments, to shops, to nursery, libraries – in short getting OUT. And whilst – in our golden youth -there was a doctor, dentist, school, shop, cottage hospital all within the locality, that’s all gone. You need to travel to where the service is.
Even with a car, having small children can make going out a quite an undertaking, particularly if you have other problems on your mind or petrol is becoming unaffordable. So rural isolation, linked to transport and poverty, is a real problem.
Apart from the difficulty in getting from a to b, families are getting more divided. No I’m not talking about family breakup, although there wasa rapid increase in the number of single-parent families in the last half of the twentieth century and thishas had a major influence on family life. Not least because there is no back-up when something goes wrong. Anyone who has experienced the business of raising small children while each parent takes it in turn to get flu will understand quite how much worse it is when you have no other adult to help you in a crisis
What I am really talking about is geographical division people are starting to move in and out of East Anglia.
Do you know, until recently it was actually possible to separate out the DNA of the Angles – who lived in Norfolk, from the Saxons – who lived in Suffolk, because neither population had moved much in the succeeding hundreds of years? Maybe this explains our attitude to Norwich City!
These days people are on the move. And not only are they on the move, but families have become much smaller. This means young parents no longer live next door to a lot of helpful sisters and mothers and aunts. They might live miles or counties or even countries away from a single parent or their only sister – often a very few individuals who might be the only family they have. The traditional family support network is not what it was. Couple this with poverty and poor transport and you can be looking at desperation indeed.
This is where organisations like Home-Start. If the family network is getting thinner and weaker, we need to be each others’ ‘family network’. If there isn’t enough ‘blood family’ to do the work then we need to become each others’ ‘family’.
Its like John Donne said: “No Man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the Main.”