Government must stop ignoring hidden crisis of rural homeless

A new IPPR study reveals over 6,000 rural households became homeless last year.

Joan-McAlpine--homelessness

A new report by IPPR, the progressive policy think tank, exposes the injustice of often hidden homelessness in rural areas.

The new report, Right to home? Rethinking homelessness in rural communities, has found that last year, 6,270 households were accepted as homeless in England’s 91 largely rural local authorities.

The report also found one-fifth of all homeless cases occurred outside of England’s most urban areas.

Between 2010 and 2016, the report notes that predominantly rural local authorities recorded an increase of 42% in rough sleeping.

Many cases of homelessness in rural areas go undetected, with people more likely to bed down in alternative countryside locations like outhouses, barns, tents and parked cars.

The report also looks into the causes of homelessness, saying they are “often similar across urban and rural areas.”

Rural cases most frequently relate to family breakdown or the ending of an assured shorthold tenancy, as has been widely reported in urban areas.

Particular challenges in rural areas include lower levels of housing affordability; shortages in affordable homes; and high prevalence of second and holiday homes.

Preventing and relieving homelessness can be especially difficult in rural areas because of a relative absence of emergency hostels and temporary accommodation, large travel distances with limited public transport, isolated and dispersed communities and constrained resourcing for specialist services.

To tackle this problem, IPPR recommends:

  • Central government should develop a new national homelessness strategy, taking the enactment of the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 as its lead, and which must include rural-specific consideration and guidance
  • Local authorities should enter into two-way negotiations with central government to develop devolution deals on housing and planning, in which ambitious commitments to increasing affordable supply should be met with a transferral of power to do so
  • Local authorities should set up rural community homelessness hubs, using local buildings and running weekly drop-in sessions which bring together relevant services to provide advice and support those at risk of or experiencing homelessness.

Charlotte Snelling, IPPR research fellow, said: “Many people see homelessness and rough sleeping as a problem which only affects England’s big cities.

“However IPPR’s research shows that it is a real problem in rural areas too. It is often hidden, with people forced to bed down in in outhouses, barns, tents and parked cars.

“However, this isn’t something we simply have to accept: building more affordable homes alongside putting in the right support from government would do much to tackle this issue.

“This will require politicians both locally and nationally to accept their responsibility to change things and put in place a much better strategy to do this”.

Commenting on the research, Sue Chalkley, chief executive of Hastoe Group, said: “It is clear from this report that homelessness manifests differently across the country, and solutions used to tackle it in urban areas may not be the right approach for those in our rural towns and villages.

“Even a basic understanding of the number of rural people who are homeless, or sleeping rough, is often pitifully low.

“The stigma of being visibly homeless in rural communities can be much stronger than in a city and, as a result, many will be bedding down tonight in hidden locations like outhouses, barns, tents and parked cars – making it much harder for traditional ‘head counts’ to identify them.

“And it isn’t only rough sleeping that is such a problem. Worryingly, since the middle of 2014 the number of families having to live in a B&Bs in rural local authority areas has risen by an appalling 500%, compared to a 200% rise in urban areas.

“The numbers are still rising in rural areas while in our towns and cities the numbers have been falling for the last year.”

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