Homelessness soars in rural England as living costs hit poor
Homelessness in the countryside has increased from 17,212 in 2018 to 24,143 in 2023, with wages stagnating and housing costs rising in many areas. Image Credit: X/AFP

London: Homelessness in rural England has risen by 40 per cent in five years with many sleeping in the open air, tents or makeshift shelters, a British rural charity said on Tuesday.

A cost-of-living crisis in the G7 nation and the world's sixth-biggest economy, fuelled by high inflation, has left many Britons struggling to make ends meet, as bills for food, energy, rent and mortgages increase.

Inflation is coming down from a 41-year peak of 11.1 per cent in October 2022 to 3.9 per cent in November, but charities believe a range of factors, notably cuts to welfare payments in the last decade and a housing shortage, has exacerbated food poverty and homelessness.

The CPRE charity, which campaigns for affordable housing in rural England, said homelessness in the countryside had increased from 17,212 in 2018 to 24,143 in 2023, with wages stagnating and housing costs rising in many areas.

"The sharp rise in rural homelessness shows the real-life impact of record house prices, huge waiting lists for social-rent housing and the boom in second homes and short-term lets," it said.

The charity said 12 local authorities across England - designated as predominantly rural - had levels of rough sleeping higher than the national average of 15 people per 100,000.

The town of Boston, northeast of London, was England's worst-affected rural local authority for rough sleeping, the charity said.

It said 48 people per 100,000 were sleeping rough in town in September 2023 - the latest month for which data is available.

Boston was followed by Bedford, north of London with 38 per 100,000, and North Devon in southwest England with 29.

"Unlike those in urban areas, people sleeping rough in the countryside are often hidden out of sight, camping in fields or sheltering in farm buildings," the charity said.

"They are also less likely to have access to support services. This means the analysis, which uses the government's own data, almost certainly underestimates the scale of the crisis."

The charity said 300,000 people are waiting for social housing in rural England - where the average house sells for around £420,000.