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The University of Southampton

Hidden homelessness on the rise in rural England

Published: 17 March 2023
Rural home

A new report featuring research from the University of Southampton says rural homelessness is on the rise and has been worsened by the pandemic and the cost-of-living-crisis.

The report, Homelessness in the Countryside: A Hidden Crisis, reveals ‘a real and growing problem’ in rural England, which is exacerbated by high housing costs, low wages, lack of specialist support services and restrictions in local authority funding. Rural areas receive 65 percent less funding per capita through the Homelessness Prevention Grant than urban areas.

Professor Helen Carr, from the University of Southampton’s Law School and co-author of the report, said: “The pandemic hit rural economies hard, and the cost-of-living crisis appears to be having a particularly damaging impact. Our research shows that this has contributed to an increase in rural homelessness.”
Researchers from the University of Southampton and the University of Kent surveyed more than 150 frontline staff from local authorities and other organisations working with rural homelessness to gain their view of the issue.

  • 91 percent of respondents from rural areas believe homelessness has increased in their location in the past five years.
  • 83 percent of respondents who work in rural areas think that addressing homelessness in rural areas has become harder in the past five years.
  • 81 percent of the respondents consider the overall experience of homelessness in rural areas is different from urban scenarios.
  • 80 percent of respondents believe that the main obstacle in addressing homelessness in their area is structural (lack of funding/ resources/housing), rather than individual (reasons relating to choices or actions by the individual)

An analysis of data from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) seems to confirm the survey responses; it reveals a 24 percent increase in the number of people sleeping rough in rural areas from 2021 to 2022.

The researchers also conducted ethnographic research which involved interviewing more than 40 people including service providers and those experiencing homelessness themselves in four rural locations.

Professor Carr added: “One of our major findings is that rural homelessness is distinct from urban homelessness and requires specific policy attention.

“People sleeping rough in rural areas have difficulties accessing essential supplies like food and water, transport and support services. There is a rural price premium and specialist services, particularly mental health support, are likely to mean travelling long distances.”

The report makes a series of recommendations based on the research including increasing affordable housing in rural areas, more targeted support for rental costs, and providing flexible, multi-disciplinary prevention services in rural areas.

The independent report Homelessness in the Countryside: A Hidden Crisis has been prepared on behalf of a coalition of rural charities and housing associations and is available online.

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