Rural proofing was initially introduced in 2000 by the Rural White Paper. As a Government policy it is now overseen by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra).
Defra produces rural proofing guidance for use by Whitehall Departments and their agencies. This therefore includes the Department of Health & Social Care, plus NHS England and Public Health England.
When making or revising national policies, Departments and their agencies are expected to:
- Identify any direct or indirect impacts of the policy on rural areas;
- Make an assessment of the likely scale of those impacts;
- Consider actions to tailor the policy so it works well in rural areas; and
- Post implementation, monitor the policy effect in rural areas, adapting it if necessary.
Three particular issues which are highlighted in the Defra guidance are:
- Demographics – citing the high proportion of older people living in rural areas;
- Access to services – citing distance, transport links and low population density; and
- Service infrastructure – citing challenges with broadband and mobile connectivity.
Many commentators on rural policy note another linked issue; that there are often higher costs associated with service delivery in more sparsely populated areas. The rural service delivery challenge has sometimes been represented as striking a balance between three goals, namely that services should be: of high quality; have reasonable costs; and be easily accessible. Whilst achieving (let alone maximising) all three of these is not easy, it is rarely a simple trade off and approaches can usually be found which fit rural circumstances.