While the population of minority ethnic communities in rural and remote areas is small relative to their incidence in the UK at large, there is now a settled ethnic minority population in every local authority area, including the most isolated and remote communities. The growth of migrant workers from East and Central Europe in rural areas (more than a million in the UK overall28) has been greater than previous migration populations, and these in turn have supplemented the nomadic Gypsy and Traveller (Romany) populations which have long characterized many rural areas. All in all, minorities may be in excess of 5% of the population of local rural communities;29demographic trends suggest that rural minority populations are growing twice as fast as in the UK overall.30
The organizational capacity of race equality NGOs in rural areas is small and fragmented. These populations are – according to police statistics – subject to heightened levels of racism and discrimination,31 and they continue to be overlooked and marginalized in most policy and service development. The dispersed nature of rural minorities means they often lack the cultural and social support available to their more densely populated urban counterparts. There are neither effective networks nor, typically, agencies specifically designed to respond to their needs. Studies show that up to half of all rural minority ethnic respondents have experienced racist abuse or attacks. The pattern of racial disadvantage is thus often quite different from that of urban minorities.
Britain’s minorities share the experience of racism and discrimination at both an institutional and individual level, but rural minorities experience an additional failure by policy and service agencies to take their issues seriously.32 These agencies, including local government, Government’s local offices and health and police departments frequently hide behind the notion of ‘numbers’, arguing that these are too few to take their needs effectively into account.33 The problems facing rural minorities are therefore fourfold:34
the attitudes of service providers, particularly government, which has no explicit policy for meeting the needs of minorities in rural areas;
the ‘invisibility’ of communities (largely compounded by agency and policy inaction); and
a failure to institute equal opportunities policies and an equation of minorities with ‘problems’, characterising most statutory rural agencies
The Government should develop resources to support all public authorities working within rural areas, to address the particular needs of people from minority ethnic communities in consultation with local race equality NGOs wherever possible.