Covid and Brexit weighing heavy on rural youth, study says

Rural young people have been socially impacted by Covid and feel Brexit uncertainty, the research says
Rural young people have been socially impacted by Covid and feel Brexit uncertainty, the research says

Rural young people are pessimistic about future opportunities and believe the pandemic will continue to affect their prospects, a new study says.

Young farmers and rural-based young people have raised significant concerns about their future post-Brexit, coupled with the Covid-19 pandemic.

The vast majority (85%) believed the crisis would have an impact on their future, with many thinking it would be harder for new entrants to get started in farming.

The research, a Defra-supported project between NFYFC and researchers Rose Regeneration, has been released ahead of National Young Farmers’ Week 2020 (26-30 October).

Affordable housing, connectivity and available youth services were amongst the challenges faced by today’s rural youth, according to the study.

The top three challenges for future land management included labour, enterprise start up and technology issues.

One-third of respondents stated the skills sets required for farming would need to change with less than half being aware of the new post-Brexit ELM scheme.

Over half were confident about increasing productivity but only 50% were confident that they will be able to increase future profitability in farming.

Affordable housing was highlighted as a major stumbling block for young people wanting to remain in the countryside – more than two thirds think there was not enough housing available.

A lack of services was a key issue, with young people admitting that the most important facilities they wanted to see available were a community centre/village hall, a youth club or youth service, Wheels to Work and the church.

Ivan Annibal, managing director of Rose Regeneration, said these were not promising times to be growing up in rural England.

“With not very much cause for optimism this is a group of young people showing a determination to achieve their independence, putting back time into their local communities and planning actively around their training and development.

“They have been socially impacted by coronavirus and feel great uncertainty as the path to Brexit nears its conclusion.

"Notwithstanding these challenges most are positively getting on with their lives and through this survey provide at least one reason to be cheerful about the future.”

The survey was launched in June 2020 and gathered responses from 528 young people across the UK's rural areas.

It also included a telephone survey to gather feedback from YFC members on the impact the pandemic was having on them and their YFCs.

NFYFC’s YFC AGRI Chairman George Baxter, a member of Cambridgeshire Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs, said YFCs faced 'significant challenges' ahead.

“Whilst this research raised some of the obvious issues around lack of affordable housing and the need for connectivity in rural areas, it also highlighted the wealth of skills and experiences of young people growing up on a farm.

"Diversification and high-level skills will be required and there’s an appetite to develop these."