by Mo Metcalf Fisher

As the Conservative Party leadership contest accelerates, the Countryside Alliance is emphasising the importance of candidates prioritising rural communities and protecting the rural way of life.

This includes passing measures to ease lifestyle threatening impacts of the cost-of-living crisis, including an urgent VAT cut for transport fuel.

Chief Executive of the Countryside Alliance, Tim Bonner, said:

"The rural vote has become increasingly important in recent general elections and Labour and the Lib Dems are actively targeting the Tories’ Green Wall. The Conservative Party therefore needs to think very carefully about its offer to rural communities as it chooses a new leader.  At times in the last few years it has seemed that the countryside has been taken for granted and the interests of rural people have been seen as entirely secondary to ‘eye catching’ environmental and animal welfare policies. Thriving rural communities are the solution to the challenges facing our environment, not the problem, and government policy must reflect that."

He added: "Rural communities hold the keys to Number 10 as much as any other group in the country and so it is pivotal that the views of those living in the countryside are not overlooked.  Rural people need to know that their way of life will be protected and that the cost-of-living crisis that is affecting rural communities as deeply as any part of the country is going to be addressed. Clearly, with fuel costs spiralling out of control in the countryside, prioritizing an urgent VAT cut on fuel would go a long way to alleviating the pain for many in their daily lives. The Alliance will be giving careful scrutiny to the policies proposed by all Conservative leadership candidates and will ensure that our members and supporters are informed of the position each is taking on key rural policies."

A Countryside Alliance snap survey of more than 230 people indicates the multifarious damaging consequences of the crisis on rural businesses, households, and individuals.

Over half of respondents claim that costs to fill up their oil tanks have increased by a staggering 50 percent. Individual wellbeing and family life are impacted, with 45 percent reporting greater anxiety and sleeplessness. 3 in 10 claim that fundamental property repairs are not being made due to a lack of funds. More than three quarters said their disposable income had decreased by at least 10 percent.

Nearly eight out of 10 respondents worried that increases in the cost of heating oil will make it harder for them to heat their homes this winter. Just over half thought the cost of filling their oil tank had gone up at least 50 percent.

And nearly three in 10 said they had invested in greater security to stop thieves stealing oil.

Moreover, 20 percent fear they will soon not be able to earn a living in their current line of employment, and many are already resorting to secondary jobs.

88 percent fear that young people can no longer afford to live in the countryside.

Rising fuel prices place pressure on local businesses. With more than six out of ten poll respondents saying they frequent pubs and restaurants less often and almost half relying on supermarkets rather than local shops, these establishments are like to struggle.

Farming is also hindered, causing monumental concern for national food supplies. Nearly nine out of ten say they worry that in a global crisis the UK could lack food to feed its population.

Eleven candidates have come forward so far in the race to replace Boris Johnson, who resigned last week. Conservative MPs will whittle the field down to two final candidates before the end of next week, in successive rounds of voting.

Around 160,000 party members will then pick the winner in a postal ballot.

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