PEOPLE living in remote areas of Scotland need to earn up to 40% more to achieve the same standard of living as urban dwellers in England, research has found.

Higher fuel bills, commuting costs, food and the price of other essentials have been blamed for the difference.

The study claims the gap is putting the future of rural communities, where workers tend to earn less, in danger.

Ten public and community service organisations north of the Border including several councils, housing bodies, Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) commissioned the report, A Minimum Income Standard for Remote Rural Scotland.

It said tackling any one of the factors would have a major impact on people's cost of living.

The study found a single social tenant living in a remote Highlands town paid about £15 less in rent and £6 less in council tax than their English equivalent. However, they spent £10 more on domestic energy and £35 more on petrol before the higher costs for food, household goods and clothing were taken into account.

The research looked at living costs in towns such as Lerwick, Wick, Campbeltown and Stornoway, as well as small settlements.

It included pensioners and those in working age groups from across the Highlands and Islands and rural southern Scotland, including island communities.

It revealed that, including rent, minimum household budgets range from £320 per week for a single adult in a remote mainland town to £672 for a couple with a family in an island settlement.

For pensioners living in remote mainland Scottish towns, the cost is just over 10% higher than in rural towns or urban areas elsewhere in the UK. For single people or couples with children living in remote small settlements it is 30% to 40% higher than in urban England and 10-15% higher than in small English settlements.

The report warns: "These high living costs threaten the sustainability of local communities by making it harder for people from a range of backgrounds and ages to live there at an acceptable standard."

It also warns welfare benefits do not cover the cost of living in remote rural Scotland and the minimum wage only produces about two-thirds of a minimum income for a single person living in remote rural Scotland.

Alastair Nicolson, head of planning and partnerships at Highlands and Islands Enterprise, which led the group behind the research, said: "We commissioned this report to improve understanding of where the key issues lie, how these interact and what measures could help people in different areas on a given income.

"By pinpointing the most important sources of higher costs in remote rural Scotland, it is possible to develop mitigating interventions that will help raise living standards, particularly for those on lower incomes."

Di Alexander, chairman of the Rural and Islands Housing Associations Forum, said: "Whether you live in the north or south of rural Scotland, town or island settlement, the cost of living is significantly higher than in urban Britain.

"Fuel poverty, particularly in the ever-increasing private rented sector, is two to three times higher for most rural households.

"The housing-related lessons are clear – rural and island communities need more, better quality homes which ordinary households can afford to rent and run."