A Plaid Cymru MS called for a rural poverty strategy, raising an economist’s warning that rural Wales is probably in more trouble than at any point in living memory.

Cefin Campbell described rural Wales as a picture of decline, with banks, schools, post offices and pubs all closing, with young people leaving to seek work, affordable housing, a better life or leisure facilities.

Mr Campbell said an external view of relative wealth can hide poverty under the surface, warning significant poverty is hiding in the shadows in rural Wales.

He raised the example of Ceredigion, which has among the highest house prices in Wales, yet 30 per cent of children living in poverty – the second highest rate in the country.

The Mid and West Wales MS said rural areas face the triple pressures of high costs, low incomes and poor access to public services.

He quoted Calvin Jones, a professor of economics at Cardiff University, as warning rural Wales is in trouble – “probably more trouble than in living memory”.

“Economic dysfunction is old hat here of course,” said Prof Jones.

“The social problems consequent on poor wages, low value added, and a lack of economic opportunity and market income are many and longstanding.

“These include poverty, the hollowing out of towns, poor service provision for rural areas, and the out-migration of the young.”

Mr Campbell advocated following the example of Northern Ireland’s Rural Needs Act which places a legal duty on public bodies to carry out a rural-proofing test

He told the chamber he has commissioned research and developed a strategy, which will be published shortly, due to the lack of response from the Welsh Government.

Mabon ap Gwynfor MS said: “There's one thing that's certain, which is that there is less investment in our rural areas, in the infrastructure,” and called for fair funding from Westminster, saying Crown Estate and HS2 money could transform rural Wales.

Samuel Kurtz, who chairs the cross-party group on rural growth, raised a report on rural productivity which made 19 recommendations following an inquiry, adding: “There are genuine opportunities within this report that do not require big money bags being spent to improve productivity in rural Wales.”

Huw Irranca-Davies agreed it is a crucial issue, but said: “I'm not convinced that a rural poverty strategy on its own is the right approach.”

He battled away calls for legislation, saying rural proofing should form part of existing impact assessments.