ALMOST a quarter of a million rural children live on the margins of poverty and lack the back-up provided for poorer children in urban areas, says a shock report from the Countryside Agency published yesterday.
The agency carried out a nationwide survey of rural poverty and its effects on children under the age of four and found that they often suffer as a result of poor transport links, the absence of facilities like nursery schools, and a lack of skilled professionals trained to deal with such problems.
The survey was carried out by the agency in an attempt to "rural-proof" the Government's SureStart programme, a new imitative designed to give children from needy families a better start in life. It is one of the pet projects of Chancellor Gordon Brown.
In a speech delivered in York, agency director Margaret Clark said that the report came up with "imaginative ways of reaching those rural children in need."
Pilot programmes have included setting up a nursery in a remote area of Northumberland - the nearest was an 80-mile round trip away - volunteer driving schemes to take children to places like libraries of doctors' surgeries, and a mobile play group in Somerset.
The report, with the clumsy title of Delivering Effective Services to Children and Families in Rural Areas: the early lessons from Sure Start, can be downloaded from www.countryside.gov.uk.