New Kent-led research has found that the cost of living crisis and the critical shortage of affordable homes has increased rural homelessness.
Interim results from the research – which was jointly commissioned by rural advocates, including several housing associations and the National Housing Federation and conducted in partnership with the University of Southampton – found that 88% of participating housing and homelessness providers believe homelessness has increased in their area in the last year. Of these organisations, 80% felt at a disadvantage compared to those in urban areas who had more access to funding and support.
Emergency accommodation is particularly in demand, with many poorer residents in the countryside especially vulnerable to the combined forces of the cost-of-living crisis and the volatility and cost of private rentals.
The research also highlights the hidden nature of rural homelessness, with many not being recorded in official statistics while sofa surfing or rough sleepers taking refuge in remote agricultural buildings.
Dr Carin Tunaker, Lecturer of Law and the principal investigator on the research, said: ‘So often rural areas are painted as idyllic retreats where people seek out a stress-free life. This perception is in danger of glossing over those who are at risk of becoming homeless or already have no roof over their head. Our interim findings are starting to provide the evidence we need to give this issue the attention it deserves.’
Kate Henderson, Chief Executive of the National Housing Federation, said: ‘This interim report highlights a worrying trend, as homelessness continues to rise in our rural communities. We’ve known for a long time that there is a critical shortage of truly affordable homes in the countryside, and now, as the cost-of-living rises, even more people at the sharp end of the housing crisis are being priced out of private rent and left with no affordable housing options.
‘Housing associations and other organisations working in these communities do an incredible job providing homes and support to local people. However, we need to see more funding for social housing directed to these parts of the country, so we meet demand for genuinely affordable homes in rural communities.’
Martin Collett, Chief Executive of English Rural who are co-chairing the research project, said: ‘The interim findings from the research already show that rural homelessness is a significant problem, rooted in stigma, with a lack of support and funding for affordable rural homes and services at a distinct disadvantage when compared to urban provision. Research to date demonstrates that solutions will be rooted in the need for fairer funding of rural communities, so that affordable homes and services are accessible to low-income and vulnerable households living in the countryside. We are very much looking forward to the full results next year to help us take strong and convincing evidence to policymakers to ensure that rural communities are not left out in the cold, as so often they are.’
The full report will be completed in early 2023 and will include recommendations on how vulnerable communities in the countryside can be helped and how rural homelessness could be better tackled and monitored.
The research was commissioned by a rural homelessness task force to form a steering group of experts from English Rural Housing Association, CPRE – The Countryside Charity, The National Housing Federation, Homeless Link, Hastoe Housing Association, Action with Communities in Rural England (ACRE), The Rural Services Network, Citizen Housing, Trent and Dove Housing Association, and The Rural Housing Alliance.